Twitter Loves Open Source: Just Not as Much as

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 17, 2010

News is making the rounds that Twitter has put up a directory showing all the open source projects it loves, which in real terms means the projects that Twitter contributes to. It's an impressive list of projects, including cachet, its Java-based text-processing software for handling Tweets, contributions to several Ruby tools, and other major contributions. Of course, notably absent is the actual platform that runs Twitter itself — so the love only runs so deep, apparently.

I don't mean to pick on Twitter too much, but if the company is going to declare its love for open source, why not go all the way? Or at least mention the elephant in the room: The primary platform is still closed. Other companies, however, really do go all out in showing their love for open source. You can get a similar microblogging platform from the all-open, which runs the microblogging service. offers its latest stable and unstable releases that power the service. Its code is released under the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) and anyone can set up a microblog of their own that will communicate with other microblogging services.

Techcrunch says that there's a "mad rush of companies trying to one-up each other with how open source they are." Rush over, folks. is at the front of the pack.

It's unclear who Twitter is trying to impress. It's certainly not the users of the service, most of whom are unlikely to care if they ever see a line of code and just hope they won't be seeing the Fail Whale too often. The real value of Twitter for users isn't in the code, it's in the critical mass of users that have joined the service. Even die-hard free software folks bite the bullet and use Twitter (alongside because the value of the service is in the ability to communicate with other users.

Maybe it hopes that it will woo a few talented open source developers into working at Twitter over Google, or Facebook which also lists the projects it contributes to. Either way, the directory — while not entirely convincing — is an interesting insight into the technologies that Twitter is using to power the service.

Like many companies, it's a conditional love affair with open source. More of a friends with benefits arrangement than anything else. Twitter may love open source, but the relationship status is "it's complicated."

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks,,, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at and follow him on Twitter.