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Why Twitter’s users are in open revolt

(Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Today is not Twitter's day.

Hours after the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Twitter is planning to debut a Facebook-style, algorithmically curated newsfeed — provoking a backlash among Twitter users — the image-sharing site Twitpic announced that it was shutting down amid legal pressure from Twitter over Twitpic's trademark application. According to Twitpic, Twitter threatened to revoke Twitpic's access to Twitter's systems if it moved forward with its trademark application. That news is inspiring even more criticism of Twitter as the service seeks a foothold among non-power-users and tries to expand its appeal.

The idea of a curated newsfeed is angering many who believe that Twitter's non-interference in the content stream is a feature, not a bug. Twitter's chief financial officer, Anthony Noto, said Wednesday that the service's way of organizing tweets in reverse chronology risked burying the most relevant content. Soon after, Gigaom's Mathew Ingram argued that adopting a "filtered" feed would "change the nature of the service dramatically." Other users of the service largely agreed, with some using the hashtag #RIPTwitter.

The backlash continued Thursday as Twitpic announced in a blog post that Twitter had contacted its legal team, pressuring Twitpic to abandon its trademark application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

"This came as a shock to us since Twitpic has been around since early 2008, and our trademark application has been in the USPTO since 2009," wrote Twitpic founder Noah Everett. "Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours."

A Twitter spokesperson expressed regret over Twitpic's decision. "We're sad to see Twitpic is shutting down," the company said. "We encourage developers to build on top of the Twitter service, as Twitpic has done for years, and we made it clear that they could operate using the Twitpic name. Of course, we also have to protect our brand, and that includes trademarks tied to the brand."

This isn't the first time Twitter has rankled its users over changes to its services and those run by third parties. The company recently debuted a feature that inserts into users' streams tweets from people they don't follow. Years before, the company bought up a number of third-party Twitter apps such as Tweetdeck, which is popular among journalists and other heavy Twitter users, in an effort to streamline the user experience.

The pressure for Twitter to create a well-defined service and find new audiences and revenue has only grown as the service has matured. Now, the company must walk a fine line between making its application more accessible while staying true to the freewheeling, organic and what many regard as a raw or unfiltered experience. Over the long run, things might settle into an equilibrium. But in the short run:

Yes, Comrade Folfsky. Yes, it is.

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