Twitter’s new API rules: has an Iron Curtain descended on the Twitterverse?

17 Aug 2012

New changes coming to Version 1.1 of the Twitter API have confirmed many developers’ worst fears about how the social network is intent on dissuading development of software that threatens in any way to distract attention from the core Twitter client.

Twitter last night revealed that in the coming weeks it will release version 1.1 of the Twitter API.

This will require authentication of every API endpoint, a new per-endpoint rate-limiting methodology and changes to Developer Rules of the Road, especially around applications that are traditional Twitter clients.

Ever since Twitter burst onto the scene in 2006, industrious software creators created popular clients such as Tweetie, Echofon, TweetBot, TweetDeck, HooteSuite, TwitPic, SimplyTweet and more.

But the sense that has emerged in the past year or so is that Twitter isn’t keen on the likelihood that in its quest to monetise, its efforts will be frustrated by the existence of so many different clients, rather than one sole client experience.

More rules than North Korea?

As one wag put it last night, Twitter’s new API rules have more rules than North Korea. You get the sense that complicating things is a surefire way of regaining control of an ecosystem that Twitter itself fears has run out of control.

Display Guidelines will be replaced by Display Requirements, for example, which appears to be an effort to enforce a standard experience for all users no matter what device or client they are using.

The number of authenticated requests applications can make currently stands at 350 per hour in version 1.0 – in version 1.1 this will be reduced to 60 calls per hour per endpoint, in a move Twitter says will reduce rate limiting issues and protect its systems from abusive applications. However, there will be a set of high-volume endpoints related to tweet display, profile display, user lookup and user search with endpoints of up to 720 calls per hour per endpoint.

App developers who don’t adhere to Twitter’s new display requirements will have their app key revoked. This pronouncement was followed by a pretty complicated new set of rules around how many user tokens app developers can have.

In one sense Twitter is clearly trying to optimise the end user experience across its entire ecosystem, but on the other hand a cynic might surmise that Twitter is trying to coral or funnel developers into a more controlled development process.

The endgame here is totally about monetisation and in the frank blog post by Twitter’s Michael Sippey it is clear Twitter is trying to encourage innovation in apps that, for example, serve the business market with analytics products based on Twitter content, tools that help businesses engage with Twitter, such as HooteSuite, and social influence apps, like Klout.

Clearly not in favour – as per a quadrant that places them in the upper right – are services like Storify or tweet discovery site, Tweetbot ad Echofon.

“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. And to reiterate what I wrote in my last post, that guidance continues to apply today,” Sippey stated emphatically.

Playing the Twitter Card

Twitter is clearly on a monetisation drive. It considers itself not just social media but media in general and its recent tie-up with NBC exemplifies this approach. And being media in general it, too, believes it has a right to a revenue stream – it is a business, after all. In recent months, it revealed users can no longer cross-post to LinkedIn.

However, what’s clear from these new rules is that it views clients that mimic its service while using it as a threat to any future revenues and these rules are clearly designed to isolate those in the upper right quadrant.

But that still leaves a thriving ecosystem for app developers who create apps and services that aid and abet insight and understanding.

Sippey said that, for example, Twitter Cards has attracted more than 400 developers and publishers who are part of the programme, including Twitter Card apps for Android and iPhone.

“And over the next several quarters we will introduce new ways for developers to build content experiences and applications into Twitter, through Twitter Cards. Finally, we are hard at work on a new set of features for Twitter for Websites, to enable web developers to easily embed real-time Twitter content on their own sites.”

In a sense, Twitter is fighting to defend what it has created and feels rightly entitled to the rewards. But in another sense it is in expansion mode and wants to pull off some kind of coup that is reminiscent of the success Facebook enjoyed with its ‘Like’ button.

Interesting times lie ahead.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years