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.