Thoughts: Twitter v Developers, client apps and the API conundrum.

A lot has been said and written about Twitter's continuing moves to reclaim its ecosystem and removing Instagram's access for the "find friends" feature sends an unpalatable message. It is not, however, completely unexpected.

TwitterDevelopers and enthusiasts feel let down and abandoned as Twitter tightens the noose. It is considered bad form that promises were made and broken after the service gained popularity on the back of the work of small developers but do people really think that Twitter intended to screw them over and go the route where aspects of the service are dictated by the need for advertising dollars?

Of course not!

No option

It is argued that Twitter could raise funds by charging users a fee for premium features or charge third-parties to use the API but, as I asked almost exactly four years ago: Is there a way back from free?

Would users start paying for something they have used for free for so long? Doubtful, and the suggestion would cause uproar. Would third-party developers want, or even be able to afford, to pay for API access after getting it for free for all these years? Again, doubtful and the longer it's been left the harder it is to do.

The comment from Biz Stone back in September 2007 that the API could be:

a way for us to potentially - depending on what business model we choose - do well there, business-wise

shows that charging for the API was considered but they didn't choose that business model - end of discussion. Twitter left it too late to fund itself using its technology so advertising was the only viable route.

Walled garden?

The company has made it plain for some time that it doesn't want its content diluted with alternative client applications or experiences but, not only do we see ongoing development of existing clients, but we get new ones appearing all the time. You have to wonder about the wisdom of continuing to build on sandy ground.

The stream is now flooded with links to external content so it is understandable that Twitter should want to cement itself as a destination by providing the ability to see as much of that content as possible without ever having to leave. Why should the company want to make this functionality available to those it cannot control?

Do developers have a sense of entitlement when it comes to APIs? Back in May 2010 in my post "Is the social web becoming too developer-centric?" I asked:

Where does the responsibility lie for development? With the service provider or with the surrounding ecosystem? The ecosystem can organically grow enhancements but shouldn’t the provider choose the main path?

Well, guess what? Twitter has chosen its path and, if the number of tweets originating from first-party (read Twitter's own) sources - at least 70% - is anything to go by, the general public is along for the ride and it is the developers themselves and a minority of power users causing the noise.

My way or the highway

Twitter committed to building a unified experience across all platforms and we are starting to see the fruits of that labour. As its own clients get more compelling the need for third-party options will reduce further even as Twitter tightens the screws so that those third-parties are unable to replicate that unified experience.