Twitter hasn’t had the greatest relationship with third-party developers. The two have tolerated each other with a few flare ups here and there, but the tension has, more or less, quieted – until now, that is.
Today, Twitter posted to its developer blog, talking about creating a “consistent Twitter experience.” At face value, that seems innocuous enough, but there’s a much deeper meaning there. Twitter is going to become even stricter when it comes to enabling outside applications.
“Back in March of 2011, my colleague Ryan Sarver said that developers should not ‘build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience,’” Twitter’s Michael Sippey writes. “That guidance continues to apply as much as ever today. Related to that, we’ve already begun to more thoroughly enforce our [developer rules] with partners, for example with branding, and in the coming weeks, we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used.’”
Stricter than it’s already strict practices, apparently. The timing of this announcement makes sense, given that usage has spiked. Twitter is growing, time logged onto the site is on the up, and the company wants to control the user experience as much as it possible can. And that means spiting third-party developers… again.
Slighted outside apps will include the usual suspects like TwitPics, YFrogs and UberTwitters, but also LinkedIn. The professional social network will no longer pull your tweets and display them in its own feed. You’ll still be able to update your LinkedIn status and send it on over to Twitter, but it’s now a one-way road.
And that’s something all developers have been experiencing for awhile. “All my developer goodwill towards [sic] has been exhausted,” a recent post circulated across Hacker News reads. After two attempts to create apps using the platform and being shut down without feedback or warning, one developer says he’s done creating for Twitter. “They’ve demonstrated not once to me, but twice, that they have no desire to work with developers, but rather antagonize them as they see fit.”
The risk Twitter runs, of course, is alienating the developer community. Facebook has branded itself as a platform, as an app marketplace, and Twitter is certainly not creating this type of reputation for itself. Of course, you could reason that Twitter’s on a different, more profitable trajectory that will win it a more successful IPO – that’s one theory, at least. Early speculation says Twitter has figured out mobile ads and Facebook hasn’t… but it’s still early.
One thing is clear: Twitter won’t be following in Facebook’s business steps. And it’s certainly not on the path to becoming a platform that encourages third-party apps. This means it can control how Twitter works and what it looks like to its users, and that is something advertisers are happy to hear. But it also means that it loses the support of a group of people that could end up driving traffic. That inarguably hurts innovation, something that’s always in the user’s best interest. It’s a money move — a gamble Twitter’s willing to take — but it remains to be seen whether it pays off, or if the team’s shooting itself in the foot.