I got an email today, a bit sad that the bot I made to comment on Tower Bridge’s state had disappeared.

I wasn’t aware it had disappeared.

So I checked Twitter, and sure enough: @towerbridge is now owned by an “official” account. They joined Twitter on the 18th May this year. I’m not going to comment on the quality or usefulness of the account to date.

What I am going to comment on: the bot has disappeared. All those tweets are gone, basically. So there’s no history any more of bridge lists. There’s no instrumentation of a part of the city. A little bit of the heartbeat of London – for me, and the nearly 4000 other people who followed the bot – has disappeared.

Now, I use an old email address that I check rarely for that account – but I’ve not been contacted once about this issue. The account has just been gazumped, and a little, talking part of the city has been killed.

I’m about to get in contact with Twitter the second I’ve posted this. I’m more than a little furious; after all, all the URLs that link to it are now incorrect, all the lifts, all the (puppet-mastered) banter is gone. Cool URLs don’t change, and these have just gone. And in their place: marketing.

I’ve never pretended to be an official account; I’ve never dissimulated; no-one from the exhibition has ever got in touch with me about the bot.

So, for the time being: this is why the bot has disappeared. I’m very, very cross, and perhaps a little upset; the robots are our friends, after all.

27 comments on this entry.

  • Ollie | 12 Jun 2011

    That is pretty low of them to do that indeed. The new account owner could haved used @towerbridgemuseum or @towerbridgeofficial, rather than just stomping on your own account that was relevant and popular.

  • Scott | 12 Jun 2011

    Strange and sudden – the old tweets are still in the Google cache – http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=tower+bridge+twitter and is still on Topsy: http://topsy.com/twitter/towerbridge (for the moment)

  • Dom Hodgson | 12 Jun 2011

    I had a similar thing with @apress a few years ago, I set up an automated twitter feed to post the daily book deal to a twitter account, a couple of months afterwards I checked and realized @apress was just given to Apress without any email or notice (everything I posted two was lost)

    Fair play to apress I contacted them and they got back to me within half an hour, they had no idea twitter hadn’t contacted me they were just given the account and they apologised to me..

    I very much doubt its the ToL more likely to be the ToL search or social media agency who want to control the brand rather than embrace and engage (ironic eh) infact I’d doubt that ToL is aware of what has happened

  • Chris | 12 Jun 2011

    Threaten to sue. They stole your id.

  • minxlj | 12 Jun 2011

    Shoddy behaviour from them – no matter what they intended to do, first step should have been to contact you. Not cool Twitter, not cool…

  • Jim Roepcke | 12 Jun 2011

    So Twitter stole your account to give to someone else? You weren’t involved with the transfer?

  • Tom | 12 Jun 2011

    No, Jim; the first I heard was when somebody emailed me to ask where the account had gone.

  • Greg | 12 Jun 2011

    Awful. It is odd that identity theft is okay, as long as the people stealing it a) request from an authority to; and b) are an institution that makes money.

    I am not a big believer in translating offline rules to online behaviour, but nobody would be able to own somebody’s else’s things just by asking for them.

    I hope you resolve this and that @towerbridge raises again.

  • P from F | 12 Jun 2011

    One word: dreadful

  • Jason Paul | 12 Jun 2011

    admittedly didn’t know anything about the bot but I am concerned about this kind of disrespect for users. It seems very Facebook-like. The promise of Twitter was that it was more open and wouldn’t pull those kinds of shenanigans. Now that Twitter has been empowered by Apple to actually compete with Facebook as a social network we probably all need to be a little more wary. Ultimately we’re on their network and it’s a reminder to exercise caution and take nothing for granted. (I use a plugin called HL Twitter to archive all my tweets to my own server/database).

  • Peter Thomson | 12 Jun 2011

    To be fair to Tower Bridge, from an intellectual property law perspective what right did you have to the name?

    A trade mark of some sort, accumulated rights to use the name, a reputation in the name, it was your actual name?

    That said, I’d expect that Twitter should have contacted you to at least ask those questions themselves.

  • Bobbie | 12 Jun 2011

    What’s the rationale, in any case? In the UK, “Tower Bridge” is a registered trademark for a number of companies: an IT business, a scientific instrument company, a leather goods manufacturer, a spirits/wine company. All of these could have a viable claim in law that you were squatting their name (though of course, a sensible approach would see that you were not).

    The “Tower Bridge” that has gained ownership is, in fact, “Tower Bridge The Venue TM”. So not even the shortened name.

    That’s aside from the fact that TB is a *place*. I’d love to hear more about what happens with this.

  • James Eggers | 12 Jun 2011

    As annoying as this is when it happens, YOU don’t own the Twitter handle, you have no rights to keep it either. You accept this can happen when you signup to Twitter. They really should have notified you though.

  • Tom Schuster | 12 Jun 2011

    There is some discussion on hacker news, http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2646979. I also posted some dump there http://pastebin.mozilla.org/1248302.

  • Anonymous | 12 Jun 2011

    Maybe you could pull a zedshaw on them

  • Iain Tait | 12 Jun 2011

    For what it’s worth I always thought that @towerbridge was an outstanding example of how to use Twitter in an interesting and smart way. It’s incredibly short-sighted of Twitter (and whichever dark forces are acting on behalf of the bridge) to have acted in this way.

    Having said that, maybe they know something we don’t and actually they’ve been sent back from the future to prevent the bots from taking over. With that in mind I take back what I just wrote. And I’m glad that someone had the good sense to smash your dangerous rung on the lader of enslavement. Thank you Twitter!

  • TheKernel | 12 Jun 2011

    I had my Nick Clegg Bot taken down too, yes i was falseing my location to ‘Downing Street’ but hey… many many more bots with vendettas shall be unleashed on twitter for this!

  • pluc | 12 Jun 2011

    Yep, this sucks, but look at the other side: when you own a trademark, a brand or a corporation and that this brand is being used on an increasingly popular and mainstream “advertising network”, you’re pretty glad when Twitter just hands you what you want. I tried that in the past for a Twitter account related to a site that had 20 million hits a month, and we were never able to get our actual brand name – and the guy who owned the account we wanted (think @website instead of what we had, @website_com), was some chinese guy that never posted to his account.

    So I guess there are two sides to every story. The ToL people are probably happy they didn’t have to give their firstborns to get their legitimate brand, but somebody gets gimped in the process.

    The part that sucks no matter which side you’re on though is Twitter’s ability to communicate. For a social network that facilitates communication between individuals and brands, they surely are not that in too much of a hurry to accommodate everyone as much as possible in a professional way.

  • Tom | 12 Jun 2011

    First, not trying to impersonate, same blog comment credentials used everywhere.

    Anyway, twitter hands accounts to officials all the time. Netflix was actually kind about it because the way I used the account was actually what convinced higher ups to set up a social media presence (I started responding with a disclaimer and a helpful link to problem tweets).

    You probably have no legal recourse if WIPO gets involved. They suck.

  • Dave Nattriss | 12 Jun 2011

    Were you acting on behalf of Tower Bridge? Is your name Tower Bridge?

    If not, then what exactly were you expecting to (eventually) happen? You were using someone else’s identity without their permission. Sure, it would have been nice if they were to contact you about it first (and maybe they did?), but that’s a courtesy, not a right.

    It’s no different to if you had registered towerbridge.co.uk, except that at least you would have paid for that, whereas Twitter is a completely free service that is not obligated to any kind of quality of service. I haven’t checked but I would guess that you agreed to the possibility of this happening when you first registered the account.

  • Dave Nattriss | 12 Jun 2011

    P.S. I look forward to you reviving your excellent bot using a Twitter account name that isn’t a trademark :-)

  • JesY | 12 Jun 2011

    Disgraceful. I loved that little bot. I can’t believe twitter did this.

  • Dafydd Tomos | 12 Jun 2011

    Your account will still be there as http://twitter.com/towerbridge_

    I had never seen the original twitter account but were you breaching any of the Twitter ToS? It might have looked ‘official’ even if you weren’t using any copyrighted imagery. In fact I’ve just read a Telegraph article from 2009 that appears to think it was an official account.

    It’s a shame Twitter don’t give a first warning in this type of case.

    Your account will be suspended but you can appeal it. If you have a reasonable case they could revert the account to you. Or you could say that you will amend the account details and choose a new username – you will get 48 hours to do this. You will get back your status history, followers etc and Twitter will review the account after that. It sucks, but all is not lost.

  • anonymous | 12 Jun 2011

    I’m sure that it’s just matter of paying Twitter more than whatever PR firm your name’s new owners offered.

  • Kenny | 12 Jun 2011

    That really sucks. Love the way The Telegraph assumed that it was already an official account in this news piece: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/twitter/6174606/Londons-bridges-in-war-of-words-on-Twitter.html

  • Andy Piper | 12 Jun 2011

    Mmm. Once again this seems to demonstrate that Twitter’s current leadership wants to enforce a new paradigm and ignore the fact that it became popular because it didn’t have a single defining purpose, which enabled an eager developer community to find cool uses like this. I reckon the owners of other bots, intelligent objects or “tweetjects” should worry. It’s a fairly clear case of retconning the platform, IMHO.

  • Tom | 12 Jun 2011

    So: it turns out I was contacted. I’ve written more here, and, as this is ongoing, am now closing this comment thread.