On Twitter’s API changes

Twitter, which can in many ways thank third party developers for the great success it has enjoyed, is imposing wide-ranging restrictions on third-party developers going forward. They’ve been moving in this direction for awhile, and the latest announcement makes these changes official. Some time ago that made it clear that third-party clients are an endangered species — not only are they discouraging development in that area, but they have also been rolling out new features regularly without corresponding API calls. Now we see that they are imposing much tighter restrictions on API usage in general, and also restricting how content from Twitter can be incorporated into other Web sites.

My biggest complaint with Twitter’s evolution is that it feels like a bit of a bait and switch. More than most other social sites, Twitter owes a huge amount of its success to the creativity of its users and to its developers. Twitter developers have reliably stepped up to meet the needs of the community when Twitter’s official clients have failed to do so. Many of the interesting features Twitter has added were created organically by the community. @-replies, retweets, and hashtags were all bottom-up innovations that made Twitter more useful or more entertaining. Treating Twitter like a game was also a community-created feature, promoted by applications like Favrd and later Favstar.fm.

Now Twitter looks a lot like the big star who forgot about all the little guys that helped it get to the top. Twitter’s early openness was one of the major factors that attracted people like me to it over the closed, overly structured Facebook. Now, though, it looks like Twitter envies Facebook’s walled garden and wants to emulate it. At its best, Twitter has been “of the Internet” in a way that most of its competitors are not. I hate to see them intentionally throwing that away.

I’m not quitting Twitter or anything — I love Twitter. That said, I don’t think that the people who run the company are really in touch with what its users love the most about it.

I’d encourage you to read Marco Arment’s post Interpreting some of Twitter’s API changes for a detailed critique. It really helped clarify my thinking on today’s announcement.

One thought on “On Twitter’s API changes

  1. Great post. As a co-founder of a Twitter API based company, I can certainly tell you that your “bait and switch” assertion is dead on. We met with them early on in our product development in SF and got assurances that not only were we in line with the API terms but also adding value as part of their quasi ecosystem of companies with our approach to delivering relevance out of the noise that is the regular Twitter stream.

    If Twitter were good at developing products like that — ones that consumers want to use — we and the hundreds of others building on Twitter would not be needed. The reality is they haven’t up until now. So, while these changes impact businesses like us, it really hits the consumer most. With more than 500 million Twitter accounts open — and only 140 million active . . . there are lots of dormant accounts that Twitter is not serving. With these new rules, my gut is these accounts will remain dormant and underserved because there won’t be any new or better tools for them to use other than Twitter.com or their app.

    Jose Mallabo

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