Monday, August 20, 2012

Twitter - making changes for the worse?

Since a few months, the tech press has been noting with concern that Twitter is changing its policies towards third party developers.

 It started in June when Twitter disabled automatic publishing of tweets to the LinkedIn timeline. Now you can automatically send a LinkedIn status update to Twitter but not vice versa.

Then in July, Twitter pulled the plug on Instagram by disabling the 'Find Friends' on Twitter feature, which allowed people to find their Twitter friends on Instagram.

Micheal Sippey of Twitter has been commenting on the Twitter developer blog about the new changes. In one of his earlier posts, he noted, "my colleague Ryan Sarver said that developers should not “build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” That guidance continues to apply as much as ever today. Related to that, we’ve already begun to more thoroughly enforce our Developer Rules of the Road with partners, for example with branding, and in the coming weeks, we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used."

Now the stricter guidelines have arrived. In a nutshell, they control the third party twitter clients like TweetBot and Twitterific in two ways - by capping the maximum number of users they can have and secondly the number of 'calls' that are allowed by each end-point. Also, all apps which use the Twitter API will henceforth will have to be authorised by Twitter.

While the changes have caused widespread analysis and criticism of the company, it does appear that Twitter's goal is not to destroy third party apps but rather to encourage developers to create applications that do not encroach upon services provided by Twitter themselves. As for the restrictions placed on Instagram and LinkedIn, it appears that Twitter wants to control the user experience and environment more rigidly and not give competition a chance to build a hold on their own user base. Instagram has been bought by Facebook, which kind of explains Twitter's caution about giving too much away to competition.

In a sense, Twitter's new measures are understandable. After all, you would not expect Facebook to let competition tap their customer base, and Twitter is as much a social networking site as Facebook is. But the point is that Twitter's genesis and evolution have been very different from Facebook. Third party twitter apps like Twitterific have long been preferred by many users over the native apps developed by Twitter and may have actually stimulated usage of the service.

Blogger John Gruber at Daring Fireball notes that Twitterific was "The first great Twitter client, and the one that paved the way for many of the conventions we now take for granted in all Twitter clients. Not to mention the way it paved the way for Twitter’s own brand — when The Iconfactory created Ollie the bird to represent the Twitterrific icon and brand, Twitter itself wasn’t using a bird of any shape. It’s remarkable how much of what we now think of as “Twitter” was created by third-party developers."

Most of the changes announced by Twitter will not affect the end user and may pave the way for development of better native apps by the company. However, negative sentiment in the tech world does percolate down to users and it remains to be seen whether the bold stance taken by the company will affect their user base negatively or positively.

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