Twitter Begins Locking Down API

Twitter today released the details of its 1.1 API update, and they are clearly aimed to discourage, if not eliminate, third-party clients. The changes are being made so that Twitter can further monetize its service with advertisements. To do so, it needs to control the viewing experience for as many of its users as possible – in other words, Twitter is only currently begrudgingly supporting third-party clients, such as Twitterrific and Tweetbot.

Twitter has made the following changes, nicely summarized by Rene Ritchie of iMore:

  • All API calls will have to be authenticated. That’s not a bad thing; it would cut down scraping and other potentially onerous activity.
  • Rate limits on a per-endpoint basis. Right now Twitter limits API calls to 350 per hour, regardless of whether you’re calling one API or all of them. Now each API will have its own rate-limit. If you call many, maybe it’ll work out better for you. If you call only one, you’ll be in trouble.
  • Changes to developer rules of the road. This is where Twitter once again urges Twitter app developers to no longer develop Twitter apps by increasing control of how these apps need to display data, and increasing the cap on how much data they can show.

The last change is by far the most troubling, but there is one potential point that could spell even more trouble for developers. Find out ahead.

Additionally, if you are building a Twitter client application that is accessing the home timeline, account settings or direct messages API endpoints (typically used by traditional client applications) or are using our User Streams product, you will need our permission if your application will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens.

We will not be shutting down client applications that use those endpoints and are currently over those token limits. If your application already has more than 100,000 individual user tokens, you’ll be able to maintain and add new users to your application until you reach 200% of your current user token count (as of today) — as long as you comply with our Rules of the Road. Once you reach 200% of your current user token count, you’ll be able to maintain your application to serve your users, but you will not be able to add additional users without our permission.

Simply put, the more users, the more Twitter will exert its control over your product.

These changes have reignited the anti-Twitter flame, and are likely going to benefit other services, like App.net, positively. My thoughts on the subject are varied: I am glad that Twitter has finally officially revealed what they want the future of Twitter to be. At this point, it seems obvious that the recommended approach is to use the official clients. This is bad news for third-party clients, though, and the timer is certainly ticking away regarding how much longer these clients will be allowed to access Twitter’s API.

Ironically, the official client for both the Mac and the iPhone began as third-party clients, originally known as Tweetie. If these policies had been in place at the time, Tweetie would have never existed. Sadly, Twitter’s genius business team (money money money!) would rather stifle innovation and get some advertiser’s cash in the short term, rather than have a better and more competitive product in the long run.

But hey, they’ve got a chart – they’ve got to know what they’re doing.

[Twitter]

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