Twitter’s RSS feeds are broken, and will stay broken

What happens when Twitter switches from basic authentication to OAuth? Clients that relied on the former will stop working, until an update comes to add support for the latter. This has been called the OAuthocalipse and aside from minor glitches with some programs, it happened without much of a problem, much like the infamous millennium bug (ah, those were the good times: free Kevin!)

One of the lesser used functions of Twitter has been brutally smashed by the switch to the safer authentication method, however, and in a way it’s quite ridiculous. I’m talking about RSS feeds that are — or should I say were — generated from the timelines and so on. It was probably not very used, given the plethora of dedicated Twitter client, but as a very basic user who is mostly in read mode, I really appreciated it. Of course, to get a feed of your own timeline you had to log in, and how do you do that? With basic HTTP authentication, of course. Not anymore.

Now, I’m sure that some RSS aggregators will implement OAuth. Whether the one I use will do that or not is still unknown. In any case, all of this is ridiculous for two reasons:

  1. RSS is strictly a read-only system, so adding an extra layer of complexity (in that it has to be implemented from scratch whereas basic authentication is handled by virtually all HTTP libraries and frameworks) takes time and ultimately money. The result is that many clients will be able to happily access all sorts of password-protected feeds except Twitter’s.
  2. Twitter still shows an RSS badge in most pages’ sidebar, and carries the appropriate meta tags in the <head> section to advertise the feeds to the browser. As if that were not enough, one’s own friends’ timeline (ie. the “main page” you see when you log in) has three alternate feeds: your timeline, your mentions and your favorites. Needless to say, none of them work. So why keep them up?

I’m not the only one with this problem. Commenter #8 on this post, Dan Lyke, says:

I’m now considering whether I want to bother keeping my Twitter presence at all. Sure, I could write a Twitter reader of some sort that changed things into RSS, or run an app just for Twitter, but in a few hours Twitter has gone from being a part of my usual work flow to a freakin’ hassle.

I feel exactly the same way, and to me Twitter wasn’t even “part of my usual workflow.” I seldom write and I just use it to get updates from very few users / companies. I guess I’ll check it much less now that I have to open up the page, as I have no intention of using yet another program just for that. When I have some time I’ll probably end up writing a thin wrapper around OAuth to get an RSS feed out of my timeline, but right now I’m not thrilled about this.

  • I agree. Can we start some kind of hashtag campaign to encourage twitter to realise the stupidity of this action and fix it? How about #giveusbackrss or #wewantrss or #rssagain…

    What do you reckon? Shall we start a revolution? 🙂

    PS> Can you shoot me an email if there are any relevant replies to this thread? Otherwise I’d likely miss them… 🙁

  • Daniele Nicolucci

    LOL that’s ok, I don’t really use hashtags as I never know what words would be worth tagging, but sure. I’m going to retweet a link to this thing with #rssagain. Given Twitter’s forced (and entirely unneeded, if you ask me) conciseness, the shorter the better.
    As for the comments, you can temporarily subscribe to this post’s comment feed by simply appending “/feed” at the end of the URL, or using the relevant feed as shown by your browser (with Safari I can access the list by clicking and holding on the ‘Reader’ label in the address bar.)
    Speaking of which, that’s a peculiar e-mail address you typed in. Do you use a catch-all mailbox or do you actually make specific mailboxes on purpose? I need to do something like that for my clients, as I often end up subscribing to things like antivirus services for them and I’d rather handle the whole thing personally rather than have them check their e-mail and get them confused about serial numbers. (Sigh.)

  • wynz

    Good to know I’m not the only one frustrated by this whole switch. I’m in the same boat — I’m not an active Twitter user who posts a bunch and constantly monitors the stream. I just want to stay up-to-date with a few dozen users and RSS made that perfectly easy. Having the Twitter feed alongside my other RSS feeds fit perfectly into my workflow. I think we’re in the minority though, they don’t care about the ‘occasional’ users 🙁

  • Daniele Nicolucci

    Exactly. Maybe it’s a way to make people use it more actively. I admit I have been going to twitter.com almost regularly since it stopped working, and I have found myself tweeting and replying more. (It’s also because I found nice new people to follow and interact with, though.)
    The thing that bothers me is that you cannot set a marker to the latest message you found, so every time you go you end up wasting time figuring out what’s new and what’s not.

  • The business folk at Twitter have MBAs. and as such the real riddle is why did they ever offer something as open and generic as RSS, when their buisness model is based on being yet another proprietary stitch-up, a walled garden, an absolutely free online disservice. I suspect it isn’t “broken” but self sabotaged. Breaking their own RSS was the fix for Twitter because it forces more people to get on twitter who otherwise would not have had to in order to get the feed they wanted. Broken RSS links also help create a myth that RSS isn’t reliable, when in fact it is Twitter that did it on purpose. They’ll claim it is a mistake, pretend to be trying to fix it, and maybe someday quietly drop it instead. They probably wish they’d never offered it.

  • Daniele Nicolucci

    You, sir, nailed it.

  • chrisferoz

    I agree this is total RSS sabotage by Twitter. The only evidence you need for that is that they have NOTHING to say about this problem, which is concurrent with their new format. Even their HELP page is out of date and likely to stay that way. Purely another step towards “walled garden”. FAIL

  • ChRiiS

    Tiny RSS guys handle with it : https://github.com/gothfox/Tiny-Tiny-RSS/commit/57e24c82675e37ea9262e54e30836596caf77e76
    Maybe it can inspire you 🙂
    (PS: Sorry for my bad english :D)