Twitter Changes API, Angers Many

Twitter is one of the internet’s prized companies. Few people thought that the service which allows you to send 140-character messages to followers would take off the way it has. Now it’s an influential powerhouse in its own right. Twitter plays a strange role compared to other social media companies. In some cases, it is as much an influence online as it is in the real world. Many people credit the company’s services with a beneficial role in the revolutions of the Arab Spring, as well as other movements across the globe.

But Twitter also has another side to its existence: the user experience.  With 500 million other registered users, one thinks that Twitter must tread lightly to avoid the ire of millions. Most of the time they do, but late last night they definitely announced changes that upset quite a few people.

Changing Guidelines to Requirements

Last night, Twitter announced some of the upcoming changes for its API. An API is an Application Programming Interface. Basically, API is an interface for software to communicate with other software. Developers use Twitter’s API to create third party apps for Twitter. Some examples are CoTweet, Twaitter, TweetFunnel, and HootSuite. The changes are not boding well for these third-party developers.

Mashable reports that the “changes in Twitter API V 1.1 are all designed to foster ‘a consistent Twitter experience.’” But the problems many people are having with the changes involve developers. “The new rules start by transforming the fuzzier ‘Display Guidelines’ into ‘Display Requirements.’” That means what was once a recommendation is now a hard rule. People don’t like rules.

Most of the rules are pretty technical, but for the most part they set limits on how third-party apps can interact with the Twitter service. They also implement strict interface requirements.  On top of that, Mashable also reports that “all of these apps have to be certified by Twitter before pre-installation (say prior to consumer delivery). Failure to do so could result in application key revocation.” To make matters worse, if an app grows “200% of [its] current size, they’ll need to get the okay from Twitter to grow further.” Don’t meet the rules? Your application rights will be revoked! Ouch.

Power Grab or Streamlining

As The Register writes, “The changes seem designed to make it easier for the blue birdy biz to manage its publishing system and cut costs by establishing greater consistency.” Consistency is almost always good for a user experience.

But, at the same time, many developers are crying foul and the web—as well as Twitter—is in a mini-uproar. Many users see the move as akin to a power grab. One developer, Aaron Levie, tweeted “‘Twitter’s API has more rules than North Korea.’” I’m not sure where I stand on the power grab argument, but Twitter is making some big changes. Big changes almost always cause issues, especially in a world where people can voice their gut reactions instantly, instead of taking some time to see how things pan out.  Usually, moving from less control to more control is bad on a medium like the internet where open source flourishes. But at the same time, it is Twitter’s service. They have a right to do as they please with it.

Backlash Imminent?

Despite the initial uproar the announced changes have caused, I don’t think anything will be done about them. Twitter is still growing and still a very influential and useful platform on the web. The apps people make for the service are a big part of its success. But developers and users are playing on Twitter’s court, not their own. I think people—especially developers—need some time to absorb the changes and see how things work out. They have six months to adjust to the new rules.

If I’m completely wrong and there is a mass exodus from Twitter, I’ll be quite surprised. But I just can’t see that happening. Sure, a few people and developers might leave, but that won’t impact Twitter at all. That blue bird is going to keep going for a long time to come.

Do you use any Twitter Apps to keep track of your business’ activity on Twitter?

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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