What Did Twitter Just Do To Your Favorite Twitter App?

Twitter's changes to its APIs have the geek and power-user world up in arms. But it's part of the way it plans to stay in business.

Twitter announced that its upcoming V1.1 API update will very strictly control which apps can hook up to Twitter, and how much they can syphon from its stream of updates. For some users, and some developers of third-party apps, this is a terrible thing.

Essentially Twitter is tightening the rules about how third-party apps, be they desktop PC apps, mobile apps or whatever, have access to the pieces of code Twitter's made to enable access to its tweet stream and its users. Accessing some of these pieces of code (in tech speak, making an API call) allows third-party apps to tap into the flow of status updates. It also allows them to insert tweets into the flow and to do other things like connect a tweeter to a new follower.

And there are some great third-party apps, much beloved by some users--apps like Tweetbot or Echofon and more--and some of them allow functionality that Twitter itself doesn't (like delayed scheduled tweets) or have a UI that is in some way better than Twitter's official one, which is occasionally non-ideal.

The rule tightening is pretty simple. It means apps will now have to authenticate themselves with Twitter to access the API, so the company knows which third-party apps are run by whom, and it can thus map out precisely who's riding piggyback on its core business offering. This also cuts off "abusive" use of Twitter by bots and data-scraping systems that put in a disproportionately huge number of requests to access Twitter's data. Twitter's also limiting the number of API calls a third-party app can make, and the number of users an app can sign up--it may charge for use beyond these limits. It's also limiting how apps can display status updates.

None of that is tricky to understand. Twitter's flow of updates is its lifeblood, and the interconnected network of users is the pattern of arteries and veins which make the whole thing thrum along. The new rules are designed to stop people from jamming a fat needle in a vein to extract Twitter's blood for their own money-making purposes without paying Twitter any money. They're also designed to stop some abuses of its system--a mosquito net, if you think the analogy through, to stop thousands of really persistent insects supping on its blood supply and possibly even tainting the overall flow or damaging the network.

Sure, some power users will dislike that their favorite Twitter apps may have limited functionality going forward, or even that they may be forced to close. And you can argue that Twitter is shutting some avenues of innovation down, whereby a third-party app could invent something either in terms of Twitter power or UI design that Twitter itself could benefit from. But it's probably fair to say that the average user will barely notice the changes when V1.1 of the API goes live.

Twitter's decision to tighten the rules and insist on a uniform experience is akin to Coca-Cola insisting that if third-party fast-food stores sell its very popular product they must deliver it at a quality that doesn't sully the Coke brand. It's even a little like Apple insisting that only it controls which computers its OS runs on, and which third-party devices can be licensed to hook up to iPhones or iPads.

Twitter is a business with costs to cover staff, coders, engineers and server-after-thousand-dollar-server. Coke and Apple are huge and very successful businesses that make money by simply selling very popular products. Twitter is trying to follow their lead.

Read about the impact Twitter's tweak on upstart UIs at Co.Design

[Image: Flickr user Nick Harris1]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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3 Comments

  • tsk_tsk_tsk

    I don't understand why my previous comment was removed, I didn't swear or say anything troll-ish. I really wanted to chime in on this thought-provoking article. Is there some way you can explain your moderation guidelines so that I can ensure my future posts are actually displayed?

  • Rich Triblets

    I understand your point and really do hate those that have abused the system. If this can be cut-down by verifying and authenticating I'm all for it. Hasn't twitter had this ability? I mean if they can shut-down the account of a journalist for tweeting an email why not disallow access to bots and abusers. 
    Users and developers have always provided Twitter with innovations free of charge. The guy who invented the hashtag, Nate Ritter, comes to mind (not sure who was the first to use it on Twitter). This to me is a power-grab considering that they haven't really given app developers enough heads up that this might be coming. And if they had done this then there should be a licensing fee so that those who actually are making a living developing apps can continue to use the API. Twitter gets it's money too. It seems that Twitter would rather have the whole pie however. We'll see.
    Just as a nitpick, I have had Coca-Cola's and Pepsi's that were pretty bad at many a restaurant so probably not the best analogy.

  • MMA4CMT

    Why is it assumed that when free aspects that have become available on the web over the years will always be free?  One extreme looks atr it like they are drug dealers allowing us to get hooked on their products then forcing us to pay to feed our new habit.  The other does not consider long term benefits, like the possible rewards of some 3rd party apps for Twitter.  We are in a new age with our social media technology and just like every business or political "inequalities" that exist, individuals have the power to balance things out.  If not regulation and oversight will step in and keep the pendulum swing wildly hurting everyone!