Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

What do users need to know about Twitter’s API changes?


As alluded to yesterday, I wanted to blog about Twitter’s proposed changes to its API – the means by which third-party apps can access your Twitter account.

Some of the changes are simply to ensure that all apps using the API are authenticated (so that Twitter isn’t being swamped by requests with nothing other than an IP address to identify them), or to change the rate limits for various parts of the API. Anil Dash explains this far better than I, or even Twitter, can, so read his blog post before continuing.

Third-party apps add a lot of value to Twitter. I personally have authorised 77 to access my account (yeah, even I was surprised by that number), and provide a huge amount of choice. As well as ‘traditional clients’ like Tweetbot, these are other services which let you do interesting things with your Twitter account, such as finding friends, analysing your tweets or sharing pictures and links easily. Twitter launched its API very early on its life and it has enabled a huge ecosystem of applications as a result.

But things are about to change a bit. Twitter is keen to ensure that third-party applications offer a ‘consistent experience’ – i.e. look broadly the same – and is limiting the maximum number of users that each app can have, initially to 100,000 (although all current apps will receive a maximum that is double their current user number, if that is higher than 100,000). Because, let’s face it, to date, Twitter has been letting just about anyone use their API without any limits, even when this is with clients like Tweetbot which compete directly with its own apps. The consistent experience would ensure that all tweets can be retweeted, favourited and replied to in the same way as Twitter’s own apps, without using third party applications.

And these third party apps don’t currently show advertising. It’s clear that Twitter sees its revenue stream coming from promoted tweets inserted into users’ timelines, and promoted topics in the list of trending topics. I’m guessing Twitter would like to see advertising included in third party apps as well. This may annoy some people who don’t like advertising, but Twitter has to make its money somehow, and it’s clear that it isn’t pursuing a ‘freemium’ strategy where certain features are only available to paying customers. This could include making all tweets searchable (rather than your 3,200 most recent tweets), or paying to have your account ‘verified’ (the blue tick), which I’ve seen others suggest.

So how do third party app developers feel about this? I’ve seen responses from Tapbots (makers of Tweetbot) and IconFactory (makers of Twitterific), who both give the impression that they’re happy to continue working with Twitter. Similarly, Pocket (one of the read later services) sees no problem with integration with Twitter apps going forward, and Twitter has confirmed that the future is still bright for services like Favstar and Storify. However, one thing we will see less of is apps that combine a Twitter timeline with data from elsewhere – apps like TeaTime+ and TweetDeck on the iPhone won’t be able to combine Twitter and Facebook in the way that they have been up until now, when these new rules take effect.

As users, we probably have very little to worry about. If you use a third party client, you may find its appearance changes a bit in future, and you may start seeing promoted tweets, but you’re unlikely to see features disappearing, or developers quitting en masse. Really, the whole thing is a storm in a teacup, and we have very little to worry about.

Comments are closed.