IFTTT v Pinboard Redux – Contracts and Condescension

Tug of War - IFTTT v Pinboard
When I wrote about the IFTTT v Pinboard standoff yesterday, I didn’t spend much time on the contract stuff in my article beyond this comment:

I would also have reservations about the contract they want developers to agree to as part of their transition to the new platform. Requiring developers to agree to the sorts of terms Cegłowski quote seems pretty unreasonable given what the clauses would seem to be saying.

I read through the contract terms that Cegłowski quoted. You can only really assess a contract effectively as a whole and while he quoted contract clauses in isolation, you can see why they are a concern.

IFTTT’s Contract land grab

These clauses are a sort of legal land grab. They may not have been intended that way by IFTTT (I tend to blame the lawyers for this sort of approach) but the effect of the clauses is to claim developers’ code created to integrate with IFTTT’s new platform for IFTTT with little credit to the developers. You can see that in clauses 3 (Ownership) and 12 (Patent License) in particular.

He also makes a good point about clause 11 which does, indeed, seem to have the effect of requiring him to “work for them, for free, on demand”:

  1. Compatibility. Each Licensee Channel must maintain 100% compatibility with the Developer Tool and the Service including changes provided to you by IFTTT, which shall be implemented in each Channel promptly thereafter.

I accept that IFTTT should be entitled to update its platform and, as a business which has profit generation as one of its primary responsibilities, perhaps even using a private API. Without knowing much about how these things work from a development perspective, requiring that developers bind themselves to a closed development environment with onerous demands seems pretty unreasonable. That said, this explanation makes some sense to me:


It certainly isn’t a good way to maintain constructive relationships with the many developers who help make IFTTT for its users by linking their services to IFTTT.

Who is really caught in the middle?

Shawn Roos made an interesting comment yesterday. I don’t agree with him, though. I think our tendency to leap to the defence of the lone developer facing up to the bigger corporation can skew our perspectives. For what it’s worth, I lean more towards supporting Cegłowski on this one.

At the same time, I don’t particularly appreciate his dismissive attitude towards the situation his customers, like me, find ourselves in but we don’t pay him for charm. We pay him to maintain and improve his bookmarking service. If he wants to behave in a certain way, well that is his choice even if being a little more empathetic could improve his relationship with his users and strengthen our support.

At the same time, while he is certainly affected by IFTTT’s new stance, Cegłowski is not the one caught in the middle here, we are. We are in the middle of this dispute because we made the decision to use both services and the positions both providers have taken means that we have to find alternative workflows to fill the functionality gaps the rift has caused.

If IFTTT vanished off the Web altogether, Pinboard would continue doing what it does now and would have value because of what it does. The same can be said for IFTTT. Changes to either service impact us users who have chosen to use the services together and when these sorts of services clash (the reasons don’t matter), we are impacted in varying degrees.

It’s a little like the citizens of Metropolis being caught up in the fallout of the battle between Superman and General Zod that we saw more of in the introduction to Batman v Superman. Granted, not nearly as devastating but you get the idea.

I was hoping this whole thing would be resolved in some way but it looks like that won’t happen. In my case that isn’t a catastrophe. I had some workflows running which automated a few tasks I wanted to run and I’m sure I can find another way to do them. It is just unfortunate that I need to and neither IFTTT or Pinboard seem to be particularly concerned about the effect on their users.

Anyway, moving along …

Image credit: Tug of War by Eva Funderburgh, licensed CC BY-NC 2.0

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