Upcoming Twitter API Changes Feed Business Users but Toss Consumer Apps Out of the Nest

By | Aug 20, 2012

Twitter has been hailed as a revolutionary platform, something more messiah than machine--what would the Occupy movements or Arab Spring have looked like without the constant stream of tweets keeping the world informed? But despite its sometime brilliance, the social media juggernaut remains a business endeavor first and foremost. Upcoming changes to the Twitter API make it clear that the company is doing everything it can to protect its own interests. Not surprisingly, users aren't exactly pleased.

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Tweets of War!

A recent CNET article discusses some of the version 1.1 Twitter application programming interface (API) updates, scheduled for release in the "next few weeks." The bottom line here is that users are being put on notice, especially those who have apps with a large number of followers. After the new update, Twitter will effectively take control of how many users any app can have. Of course, the parent service has always had this power. They've just been somewhat reluctant to use it, especially while their profile as a social media savior was at its height. Now, however, Twitter has told developers that they shouldn't compete with what the company terms "the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience."

While the API changes aren't going to be apparent to most end-users, midsize business IT admins who are designing or using after-market Twitter apps may suddenly find their support drying up, or may find that the new rules make oversight by Big Brother Twitter a little too much to bear. Indeed, many users took to the Twitterverse on after the API announcement to voice their displeasure. For example, @levie said that "Twitter's API has more rules than North Korea" and @nickbilton tweeted that he was "trying to explain the Twitter API blogpost to Times readers--aka, human beings--who don't speak Klingon." The user sentiment was perhaps best summed up by @griffeneyes: "Twitter Corp. is spinning out of control. Time to flush it. Twitter to client developers: Drop Dead."

It's easy to dismiss these tweets as the rants of disgruntled users; many platforms update their API and even Twitter, the social media savior, needs to protect its own interests, right? Right?

You're Doing What?

An article at InfoWorld talks about some of the specific ins and outs of API 1.1, including the fact that once it's debuted, developers will have six months to migrate their apps over or risk losing what they've built--a fairly standard warning, and six months isn't an unreasonable amount of time. But the new API is also going to fundamentally change the way apps interact with Twitter, as the service will be limiting the amount of data pulling "tokens" it grants to developers. Under the new rules, apps can double their token count but for anything higher, they'll have to ask Twitter's permission. If a dev wants access to account settings or needs more than 100,000 tokens, approval will also be required; and large apps, such as those needing more than a million tokens, will have to work with Twitter directly, says Michael Sippey, a Twitter group project manager.

Sippey puts it bluntly, stating that "nearly 18 months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience." In other words, the company isn't interested in competing with developer-built, client-focused apps like Tweetbot or Echofon, and instead wants to encourage business apps to grow, using analytics and metrics based on Twitter data rather than replicating the experience. The new API will also require that "display requirements" be followed in any app, which include tweet scaling and displaying the standard list of Twitter actions.

Simply put, the social media platform is taking the power they've always had and making it public. They're not looking for competition in the 140-character market but rather businesses that want to mine Twitter data and create an experience that integrates with the existing platform service. It's not a bad move, business-wise, but won't win Twitter any fans; the new API is clearly restrictive and the company isn't shy about letting apps that don't meet the new standards die a quick death.

Midsize IT: Make sure whatever Twitter apps you're using meet the new guidelines or do so in the timeline given. If you're working on a client-focused app, better to shelve it now than deal with the headache of fighting for tokens. If you're working on a business app, get ready for increased Twitter oversight.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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