Is Twitter the web’s best public identity service?

# Are there wider implications from Twitter's decision to cut services off from "find your friends" and do they affect the legitimacy of Twitter as a means of identification?

idRobinson Meyer argues in a post at The Atlantic that there are bigger civic implications of Twitter's API restrictions such as removing "find your friends" access for Instagram and Tumblr.

He states that a primary purpose of a social network is to identify you as a user and by restricting access for external services your very identity is being marginalised.


Google+ made a very public showing of being an "identity service" and not just a social network (hence the initial requirement to use your real name) and Facebook has been all about who you are right from its conception, in fact it is a core premise and would not work in the same way without it.

Facebook and Google+ provide the ability to restrict access to parts of your content and profile based on permissions levels you grant to specific groups whereas Twitter is all or nothing - you're all public or you're all private, there is no half way house.

Meyer maintains that the open nature of Twitter makes it the best social identity to be used across the web but is this really the case? Does restricting access to parts of your life on other services make their "social identity" any less trustworthy?

Twitter allows the creation of accounts with any name you like, pseudonyms, joke accounts etc. so, from an identity perspective, this is unsuitable for authenticating you as a specific individual across the web.


I have written before that trust is key to establishing a reliable, consistent online identity (and identity service) and without a real names policy it can be hard to ascribe the same level of trust to all accounts. I compared the major social networks' approach in October last year:

Facebook cares who you are because it relies on your identity for the links you create with others, with brands, with sites across the web via the Like button - it cares because it wants to advertise to you in a meaningful way and to encourage you to spend with these advertisers and spend time on the site earning it money by playing games etc. Facebook relies on your identity as that is how others find you and are persuaded to join the service in the first place - by friending people they know.

Google cares about the connections you create and the content you interact with so that you can be better targeted for advertising. It doesn't necessarily care 'who' you are as long as it can build a picture of your use. It does, however, care that you are not tainting its services with undesirable content so will prefer to track who you are.

Twitter doesn't care who you are - it cares that you are signed in and tweeting - ideally interacting with promoted content.

It would seem that Twitter is the least trustworthy of the main social networks with regards to defining who you are  and, therefore,  not best placed to be used as the basis of a web-wide identity service regardless of how transparent your feed may be.

Who are you?

The removal of find your friends may prevent users from replicating their social graphs across multiple services but does it actually negate Twitter as a means of identification? Ultimately, this has no bearing on that aspect.

Meyer's concern is, presumably, that third-party services may no longer want - or be able - to permit users to "sign in with Twitter" - although this is not actually stated in the post.  I would argue, however, that those third-parties could not risk losing sign-ups if this option was no longer available. I doubt Twitter would want to block this portion of its API due to the potential benefits of having data fed back from those third-parties services.

With no guarantee you are who you say you are, Twitter is not a desirable solution to establishing a consistent online identity with or without the ability to find your friends.

Image by Daniel*1977