Editorial by Andrew Kameka on Monday August 20, 2012.
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Twitter's decision to handicap API access to third-party clients sparked a stream of complaints on, of course, Twitter. Users raged about new rules that will eventually dictate how many people can access popular apps like Tweetbot. Surprisingly, most of the anger expressed is not from developers, the group of people most directly affected by the new API rules.
Though Twitter's new rules will significantly alter the way third-party clients operate, developers of several popular apps have not reacted negatively to the changes. Tweetbot developer Tapbots posted on its blog that the changes are "mostly harmless." Though the company isn't pleased with limits on user caps, Twitter allows for existing apps to serve double the size of their current user base. Tweetbot projects it won't reach that ceiling for "a few years."
Evan Conway of OneLouder, creator of TweetCaster and Slices, says his company is pleased to have clear guidance, despite the "fear, doom, and gloom" spread after Twitter's announcement. Conway says OneLouder will continue to build towards the Twitter ecosystem despite Twitter's looming influence on its apps.
The near uniformity of comments among the developers of Twitter's most popular apps isn't surprising. Third-party clients serve users, but they serve at Twitter's whim. Developers have to be compliant with Twitter's desires if they wish to build a business on the platform.
Developer reaction is also calm because Twitter has said that this day would come. Director of Consumer Product Michael Sippey wrote back in 2010 that developers should stop building clients that "mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience." Third-party apps continued because a large portion of users demanded it. Millions of people are not satisfied with the official Twitter apps, which is why there is such loud opposition from Twitter's users, rather than its third-party developers.
Some app makers are somewhat nervous about what these changes will mean for their business. Carbon developer M.Saleh Esmaeili tweeted that caps don't bother him, but "Dictating design requirements is the s***." Plume creator Ludovic Vialle has concerns about how Twitter will calculate token limits. Vialle tells us that his app is already in compliance with API call limits and interface requirements, but he asks:
"If a user tests a client and then uninstalls, will the user count as a used token since he is inactive? If that's the case, then the amount of free tokens will decrease quickly?If we want to expand more, what will Twitter ask [of] us?"
It's possible that Twitter will make developers display additional advertisements or pay to enable a new block of user tokens. One can safely assume that Twitter will also force developers to remove features that may be popular with users, but detrimental to its business model. Twitter already forbids altering the way tweets are displayed online, and temporarily muting a user is now forbidden. Will high-achieving apps be forced to make compromises on the very features that propelled them to success?
Developers will not have to answer that question for a long time, but all third-party clients will eventually have to "work with [Twitter] directly" to sustain growth. The question is: will the rules actually dictate that developers work with or for Twitter?
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.