What would you do if you had access to Twitter’s firehose?

Major companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have struck data deals with Twitter, but outside of limited and black market channels, a Twitter firehose hasn’t been available to mere mortals. Until now.

Thanks to a partnership announced yesterday between Gnip, a social media data provider, and Twitter, businesses, developers and entrepreneurs will be able to buy access to three firehoses:

  • A Halfhose containing 50% of all tweets.
  • A Decahose containing 10% of all tweets. This will replace Twitter’s own Garden Hose, which Twitter has up until now offered free on a case-by-case basis.
  • A Mentionhose containing all tweets that mention another user. This includes retweets and replies.

None of these firehose offerings can be used to display tweets; they are geared primarily towards companies looking to analyze them.

According to ReadWriteWeb, the cost of the Halfhose is $360,000 per year. That’s significantly less than what Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have reportedly paid for full firehose access, but it’s still a substantial amount that is sure to price out many interested parties. Obviously, Twitter sees a lot of value in its data, and it will certainly find willing buyers for its Gnip firehoses despite the prices. After all, those who need or want access to a large volume of tweets are probably looking to use those tweets in some commercially important fashion.

While there will be plenty of debate about whether Twitter’s partnership with Gnip is good for Twitter’s large developer ecosystem, it also raises a number of questions for consumers. Despite the fact that Twitter is already selling data to big companies like Google and Microsoft, the Gnip offering now makes it clear that Twitter is willing to sell data to just about any company so long as its pockets are deep enough.

In many cases that’s not really a problem — public tweets are, well, public. But it’s also possible that as Twitter’s data officially finds itself in the hands of more and more companies, there will be unpleasant consequences. Obviously, Twitter can’t fully control what buyers of its firehoses do with the data; it has to trust that they’ll act responsibly and adhere to its terms. Most probably will, but even one bad apple could conceivably do a lot of damage. After all, this data could be used by spammers and phishers.

Which raises the question: in its drive to generate revenues, is Twitter exploiting its most value asset (data) for short-term gains at the expense of a smart long-term strategy? Only time will tell. In the meantime, if you have a few hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, Twitter has a tweet deal for you.

Photo credit: carrotcreative via Flickr.