Twitter Joins The Linux Foundation

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 26, 2012

The Linux Foundation added Twitter to their list of corporate sponsors on August 24th. Ars Technica reports that Twitter paid $15,000 to join the foundation as a silver member, according to the foundation’s bylaws. That Twitter has joined the foundation is curious, the interesting question is why.

The Linux Foundation “promotes, protects and advances Linux including supporting the work of Linux creator Linus Torvalds.” The foundation is involved in trademark protection, as well as education services and publications like The foundation also supports Linux Torvalds, enabling him and his team to work full time on Linux, letting the foundation take care of everything else. Twitter’s involvement with the foundation shows their support for the platform that they were able to build their infrastructure on.

Some have wondered if Twitter joining the foundation after announcing controversial changes to their API is an attempt to smooth over relations with developers. Twitter open source manager Chris Aniszczyk refuted the idea (on Twitter, of course), saying “it’s been in the works for awhile… press is coinciding with #LinuxCon next week, that is all, we sponsored @TheASF months ago”. That’s true, but it is also true that the changes to the Twitter API have been in the changes for months as well, and the timing of the two announcements seem a bit more than coincidental. If there is anything that I’ve learned as a sysadmin, it’s to look at coincidence with a critical eye.

Joining the Linux Foundation is more that Twitter wanting a discount on Linux training. It’s Twitter making a statement that they believe in open source, and that they believe in Linux. Twitter’s infrastructure is built on Linux, as most web services are, and Twitter has been very open in releasing interesting infrastructure projects on GitHub. As of August 26, 2012, Twitter has 84 public repositories, including projects like Gizzard, a distributed datastore, and Cassie, a Scala client for another distributed datastore, Cassandra. Twitter has also open sourced Bootstrap, a web front end, and twui, a Cocoa framework for building GPU accelerated interfaces on OS X. Twitter uses open source, and gives back to the open community. By all accounts, they are a good open source citizen.

However, there is a big difference between open source and open data. Twitter has created a service that millions of people love, but in doing so they are moving away from the scrappy little startup to something much more corporate. The company needs to make money, and from what we can tell the direction they decided to go was by selling access to their data to advertisers and marketing researchers. Making it easier for sock manufacturers to “engage” with their customers and promote their brand.

The spirit of open source is collaboration, and while Twitter does all the right things on the outside, what they are doing as a company seems at odds with what their users want. Developing for advertisers and corporate partnerships is what Microsoft does. Twitter remembers this, or at least someone at Twitter remembers this. Maybe, just maybe, Twitter remembers on some level that they were born from a community of users who loved their service. Maybe that’s the reason they joined the Linux Foundation, as a way to appease their corporate conscience.