Twitter users need a Valet Key for 3rd Party Tools

I’m noticing a lot of Twitter tools requiring the user to enter their Twitter user id and password to use the tool. These tools obviously need the users’ credentials to access the Twitter API and act on behalf of the user.

But am I the only one who is uncomfortable with this? I mean, isn’t the first rule of passwords not to give them out to anybody? Isn’t it?!?!?

Instead it’s become the acceptable practice to enter it into every app requesting it! Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, you can’t use TweetDeck, StockTwits, or Twubble without entering your Twitter credentials, just to name a few.

Now you may say, the risk is low … I mean who really gives a hoot if my Twitter account gets hijacked? I’ve currently got 91 followers, many of which are social media experts looking for reciprocity follows anyway! Who cares? Nobody’s listening! Maybe so, but all it really takes is one follower who trusts me to go to a phishing site and act on ‘my’ recommendation. The risk is high enough for me.

The stakes are even higher for users with larger followings. Do you think Ashton Kutcher, with his 933k followers, doesn’t use any of these tools? Do you really think he’s using the basic web page? I doubt it.

…. maybe I’m being paranoid. After all, I have zero qualms about entering my sys admin credentials into my database tools. Currently I use Microsoft tools to access my SQLServer databases, so there is a bit more trust, but I still wouldn’t have a problem entering my credentials into TOAD to access an Oracle database.

My fear is that as more web applications attempt to expose their API’s to 3rd party developers, this unsafe credential divulging scenario will only proliferate.

What is really needed is second tier Twitter access. Like the valet key for your car, you can hand over the keys to the valet, but they can’t pop the hood, get in your glove box, or steal the golf clubs out of your trunk.

It’s late and to be honest I don’t immediately see any good way to handle this, but here are some initial ideas:

  1. A second lower tier password specifically for 3rd party tools
  2. Having the tool redirect to some kind of Twitter log in page, hosted on Twitter, which would then return the user to the tool web site, while providing access in the name of the user.
  3. The ability to log into Twitter and get a temporary or permanent ‘application key’, which the user could copy & paste into the tool.

Option 1 and 3 both kind of suck, with 3 adding any extra cumbersome step, increasing resistance and dropping adoption of these tools.

The interesting thing is that option 2 already exists! Twitter already has a valet key called ‘OAuth’, there’s even a FAQ and sample code to help developers incorporate it into their software.

WeFollow is currently using it. If you go to their home page (do people still say home page?), click on the ‘Add yourself to WeFollow’ image, you eventually get sent to a Twitter authentication page. Once you authenticate yourself, and you get sent back to the WeFollow site. This is nothing new, and is used in PayPal and MyOpenID just to name two. Later, you can go into your Twitter Settings, select the Connections tab, and remove WeFollow from having access if you want to.

This doesn’t really work well with a desktop application, since the browser would probably end up being embedded right into the desktop app anyway, which doesn’t really have the detached neutrality feel of a 3rd party web browser does it? So some type of valet key for the desktop apps would still be preferred, but in truth, I feel a lot more comfortable entering my credentials into a desktop app, than an unknown website any day.

The real question is; why aren’t all the other web apps using OAuth? Why does StockTwits require their users to enter Twitter credentials into the StockTwits website instead of using OAuth?

Why aren’t their users demanding it?

EDIT:Brent Ozar has indicated that OAuth is fairly new and many sites just haven’t finished factoring it into their user model yet. Thanks Brent.

Copyright © John MacIntyre 2009, All rights reserved

WARNING – All source code is written to demonstrate the current concept. It may be unsafe and not exactly optimal.

3 Responses to “Twitter users need a Valet Key for 3rd Party Tools”

  1. Hi
    I’m a newbie in the Twitter thingy, but I have find that its really cool tool.

    I’m on a search of Twitter tips & tricks
    Let me know if you got some more.

    Thanks for links and explanation.
    And for the post too.
    Definitely learned something new today 😉


  2. John MacIntyre says:

    Hi Amit,

    Maybe I’ll write something about how I use Twitter to keep informed about programming.

    But one tip I can give you right off the bat is to install TweetDeck (link above), open it to as many screens as possible, and setup searches on your favorite keywords.

    Good luck,

  3. Hi again John.
    This looks interesting..
    I’m now installing it on my laptop,
    What are the main features here on the Twitter browser?
    How can I use it to its full?


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