There’s a troubled buzz in the Twitterverse, but most of the service’s users won’t have heard much about it. In Trinidad and Tobago, Twitter use has trailed the stunning adoption of Facebook, but event related interest, driven by such notable campaigns as Anya Ayoung-Chee’s Project Runway vote and bpTT’s #i4TandT hashtag engagement for the Olympics, has raised the service’s profile locally. Seven weeks ago, Twitter announced that it would be changing the way third parties access the company’s application programming interface (API), the technologies that allow third party developers to interact with the Twitter stream. Most of the changes are technical, but they will introduce limits for services and unofficial Twitter applications that, until now, had unrestricted access to the company’s services. The changes also seem to allow the company to decide which services should get better access to Twitter and which will be deprecated and eventually wither and die.
For users who access Twitter using the service’s Web interface or use one of the company’s official software clients, this isn’t a problem. Those access points aren’t going to be throttled at all. It’s the clients and services that have been created by software entrepreneurs that duplicate, and in some cases, usefully expand on the standard Twitter functions that will need to face the judgement of the company’s high command and that’s making developers nervous. For users on a desktop computer, that isn’t going to be a major hassle, unless they have become wedded to a particular killer feature in an endangered programme, but it’s mobile and tablet users who will really feel the pinch. Twitter has a good desktop client and bought TweetDeck to expand the capabilities of its desktop and mobile offerings, so it’s not as if there’s a dearth of good, official clients available, but the innovations that third parties have brought to mobile apps that access the service is likely to make the new restrictions sting.
It’s probably no coincidence that after the announcement, Flipboard CEO Michael McCue left Twitter’s board. That news aggregation software accesses the Twitter stream in ways that the company now formally frowns on. Instagram, Tumblr and LinkedIn also have issues with the company’s new API restrictions. It isn’t as if Twitter is being fuzzy about what it wants to achieve with these changes. In a blog post on the company’s website (http://ow.ly/dPHxi
), Michael Sippey, Twitter’s Group Product Manager, outlined the specific details of both the technical limitations that are going to be imposed and where the company wants to see developers putting their efforts. Twitter wants to see more development work in business focused applications of its product, more analytics attention for its stream and users and improved evaluation of user ranking in the online social ecosystem. The post names those services it finds useful, such as Topsy, the user tools it finds acceptable, such as Hootsuite and those that build interest in the stream, such as Storify, a link curation site. Sippey also makes clear that “client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience” don’t have a very rosy future ahead of them.
Even those products that have the company’s approval will have to do some work to adhere to Twitter’s new guidelines. At the heart of the issue seems to be Twitter’s apportioning of access to its stream and servers and rebalancing of load versus profit potential. If users can gain value from the Twitter stream without being exposed to promoted Tweets and advertising, the company’s already fragile income model begins to fracture. That business model depends on income from Google and Microsoft who pay to access the Twitter stream for search results, and from promoted trends and tweets. All Twitter has to sell is that firehose of data and it seems to be locking down that asset. But doing that without annoying a critical mass of contributors to the stream is going to be delicate business.