Twitter Tells Third-Party Developers to Scrap Their Apps

Twitter’s growth has been phenomenal. 140 million tweets are sent every day and the system continues to enjoy exponential adoption rates. This is helped in no small part by third-party Twitter clients which utilize the public API.

But not for much longer. Twitter is asking developers to stop creating client applications.

According to the official Twitter API announcement made by Ryan Sarver on March 11:

Our user research shows that consumers continue to be confused by the different ways that a fractured landscape of third-party Twitter clients display tweets and let users interact with core Twitter functions. For example, people get confused by websites or clients that display tweets in a way that doesn’t follow our design guidelines, or when services put their own verbs on tweets instead of the ones used on Twitter. Similarly, a number of third-party consumer clients use their own versions of suggested users, trends, and other data streams, confusing users in our network even more. Users should be able to view, retweet, and reply to @nytimes’ tweets the same way.

To create a “consistent user experience”, Sarver states:

  1. Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience on phones, computers, and other devices.
  2. Tweets and tweet actions must be rendered in a consistent way so that people have the same experience with tweets no matter where they are.

He continues:

Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.

If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained.

The post has caused outrage: why has Twitter turned its back on the community which nurtured its growth?

It raises several questions.

1. Why provide an API?
Twitter’s public API allows developers to use the network in ways the company never envisaged. Inconsistencies are certain to arise as new ways to manipulate and present the data are created. That is a good thing.

If Twitter had concerns about the network’s evolution, they could have restricted or scrapped the API. They still could.

2. Are users confused?
There are many good Twitter clients. There are just as many bad ones. Choice is good.

Users are responsible for installing client applications. If they’re confused by the interface, terminology, or methodology, they don’t have to use it — especially when there are many free alternatives.

Remember also that Twitter is a service which allows users to post 140-character messages. It’s hardly complicated.

3. What is Twitter afraid of?
Sarver states:

According to our data, 90% of active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis.

If few people use third-party client applications, why is Twitter worried?

Granted, some apps will break Twitter’s privacy policies and terms of service but Twitter claim they revoke hundreds of API tokens every week. That will still occur.

4. Are their statistics correct?
Looking at hits alone, Twitter.com will always have higher usage than third-party applications:

  • New users must sign up at Twitter’s website.
  • Many third-party applications handle user logins via Twitter.com.
  • Around two-thirds of new users never use the service more than a few times. A huge volume of traffic is generated by those who would never use another client.
  • Infrequent users are more likely to stick with Twitter’s own clients.

However, Twitter should look at the frequent users — those who generate the most tweets. I suspect the majority are using alternative software. I don’t consider myself to be a twitterholic but I rarely use Twitter.com; it’s slower, clunkier and offers fewer features than the competition.

How long could Twitter survive if key users couldn’t use their favorite applications?

5. What’s the underlying problem?
This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing Twitter’s announcement is more about money than “consistent user experiences”. By using their own applications, Twitter can control what you see — including sponsored tweets, banner adverts and other promotional campaigns. That’s not necessarily possible when you’re using a third-party app.

The company has raised several hundred million dollars since its launch in 2006. Venture capital comes at a cost and many investors would expect to see a return on investment within 5 years. Twitter is yet to post a profit. It continues to trade on its potential rather than “real” valuations.

Twitter’s complaints about third-party applications appear hypocritical — it created that market. Rather than aggressively biting the hands that fed it, the company should concentrate on creating fantastic client applications people actually want to use. They have the money and resources to blow the competition away.

Existing developers will feel let down by the announcement. Companies considering their own applications will re-assess their future. Twitter is upsetting its passionate community. It’s a risky strategy.

Are you a Twitter client developer? Are you a heavy Twitter user who prefers an alternative app? Would you continue to use the service without it?

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  • Thebiganvil

    Inevitable. For Twitter to continue to exist, it has to start making money. Any 3rd party dev that didn’t see this coming long ago is hopelessly naive.

  • Pothi

    I’m an average user. But I think it might actually backfire Twitter. Good news for someone who is thinking about creating similar application!

  • aeidataworks

    bonehead move twitter. I’m looking at identi.ca as an alternative and eager to hear more about Google’s Circles.

  • curtismchale

    While I’m not in anyway opposed to having developers make money Twitter is going about this in a totally wrong manner. I’ve rarely used Twitter’s website (becauase it doesn’t have the features I want) and while I have used their iPhone and Mac clients they’re not my favourite. With the recent statement from Twitter I’ve stopped using them at all.

    First the Mac client is buggy. It doesn’t respect spaces and hasn’t since the second update. Look at the reviews and that’s most of what you’ll see. Don’t worry about new features fix a bug. But Twitter updated the icon 3 times instead of actually serving their clients.

    Second is the stupid dickbar on the iPhone client. I’ve never cared about trending tweets and consider it a feature that I don’t have to look at them. I don’t want to see the bar in any fashion. This would be a good spot for them to charge for the app. 4.99 for the right to turn off the dickbar is something I wouldn’t even think about, I’d just spend the money.

    Now let’s look at the Windows client, wait they don’t have one. Just like they didn’t have a Mac or iPhone client till recently. So what Windows users are supposed to be limited to the crappy website?

    So what about security? Seems to me that Twitter had a massive security break in because of bad password policy. Twitter is the one that just got slapped with a huge fine for that break in, not any of the 3rd party developers. Maybe the third party developers should be in charge of security not Twitter themselves.

    At the end of the day Twitter was built with the 3rd party developers. It wouldn’t have had the success it does without the application ecosystem that has allowed you to access the service anywhere. A service that they were happy to take advantage of and now want to screw.

    Like I said I won’t be installing a Twitter application from Twitter until they change this policy. There are lots of other ways I can connect with people that aren’t Twitter.

  • Jonthomas83

    TweetDeck all the way for me, would be lost without it with the FB and Twitter functionality.

  • Pam – Ryvon

    Am I a heavy user? Perhaps, but probably not. I send about 2 tweets every hour. Would I do this without third party apps? I’ll have to say definitely no. I use both hootsuite and tweetdeck. I don’t use twitter because it’s VERY clunky, does not allow scheduling, and gives me very little information without clicking around all over the place. I am on twitter to connect, and bottom line is twitter’s own client makes me miss conversations and the majority of what I am there for.

  • Wolf_22

    And this is a bad thing? Heck, I’ve never used it. Never will… It’s completely worthless anyway. Of course, this is just my opinion…

    • John

      How can you really judge the usefulness of something if you’ve never used it?

    • Synthetic Tone

      You know what they say about opinions? Twitter is what you make of it and apparently you lack the creative and logical thinking processes to see Twitters value. That is ok though… there are many like you living in a closed minded world, ready to quickly dismiss anything they don’t understand without even trying it. Sad, but I am sure Twitter doesn’t miss you as well.

  • goldfidget

    Wow, interesting maneuver. Twitter is currently very popular. I don’t think they have a problem with a confused user base. It seems to me that Twitter has to make a profit and the way they’ll do that is probably via advertising micropayments (unless they have something clever up their sleeves).

    There doesn’t seem to be a huge amount of money to be made from making basic tweeting apps, given the number of free ones available, so I can’t see they’re going to make very much money this way. However, there would seem to be plenty of money to be made from offering extra functionality, especially to businesses and power users.

    Things like, delayed tweets, enhanced tweets (made to stand out somehow) follower analytics, smart follower suggestions based on keywords or competitors, etc, etc are al paid for today by internet marketers (I should know). Plenty of money goes to services like tweetbig, so if Twitter could take down those those little guys or do something really great of their own and prevent imitation, they could arguably start turning a profit.

    In my opinion non of this matters though because Twitter is a bubble, just like myspace and friends reunited were before. I use the service, and I wish them the best of luck, but I just don’t see it working out for the best long term.

    Still, If they’re thinking what I think they’re thinking, this could be a smooth move in the short to medium term.

  • Silver Firefly

    I don’t care if Twitter wants to make money or to restrict this and that, as long as I can continue to use Tweet Deck.

  • Silver Firefly

    “If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained.”

    This is a good thing, not a bad thing.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Twitter are already policing apps which break privacy rules or send tweets without a user’s consent. That’s good.

      However, Twitter can also reject apps for an inconsistent user experience. For example, an application with a button labeled “post message” rather than “send tweet” could be banned. Twitter could ultimately block every third-party application because they didn’t develop it.

      TweetDeck’s future is at risk.

  • Patrick Samphire

    I doubt this will make much difference to Twitter’s success. Look at Facebook, after all. It frequently makes changes that outrage and frustrate users, but it keeps on growing anyway. People will keep using Twitter rather than switching because the inertia is too great to switch away, at least for now.

  • Bitter Developer

    My development team and myself just spend the past few months developing a Twitter client. About two weeks before the application is complete, Twitter tells us we are no longer wanted.

    Besides our time and money, we poured our hearts into our application.

    I also imagine I am not the only bitter developer out there.

    Twitter, I’m going to remember this.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      That’s a real shame and I’m guessing there are many other companies in the same situation as you.

      Will you publish your app anyway?

      • Bitter Developer

        We have published the incomplete client at
        http://www.javaswingcomponents.com/blog/swing-based-twitter-client-will-never-be the page should be up shortly.

        As a business we can’t justify any further development effort. The application runs rather nicely, we know of a few issues here and there, which unfortunately we won’t be fixing.

        We were also in the middle of working with a third party to redesign the ui to be far slicker. The current UI is the demo UI but I always liked it.

  • Robbiegod

    Facebook could actually do this same thing. I know it sucks, but its the way of the world.

    Twitter, up until today, is the easiest way to exchange short, brief amounts of information.

    I use tweetdeck personally. My guess is that tweetdeck isnt going anywhere. Let’s just hope they have the format right.

  • JimmyD

    I understand why they decided to block 3rd-party. If you look at it from a business perspective it makes sense, provided that you provide your users with high quality applications. Support for windows would be a good start eh. However, when you limit choice to your user-base you run the risk of alienating them.

    I think a better solution would be to keep 3rd-party development allowable, but require a license fee or subscription service for those app developers. If this really is about money, doing this would allow profit and keep your community.