Twitter has threatened to cut off access to ‘tweets’ for some popular smartphone applications, angering developers with its move to exert more control.
A blogpost by Michael Sippey, Twitter’s director of product, on Thursday evening set out new “rules of the road” for third-party developers, indicating that they must not build apps that compete directly with Twitter’s own software for smartphones.
Any new app that wishes to serve more than 100,000 users must now seek the company’s explicit permission. Apps which already have more than 100,000 users are allowed to expand by 200% before having to get Twitter’s go-ahead to grow any further.
The changes came as part of Twitter’s overhaul of its Application Programming Interface (API). An API allows different parts of a program to communicate together, as well as letting one application share content with another.
In Twitter’s case, its API has allowed for the development of extremely popular third-party services like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Twitpic.
Twitter says the new rules, announced by its director of consumer product Michael Sippey, aim to “deliver a consistent Twitter experience”.
Mr Sippey wrote: “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.” In this context, “tokens” are individual users.
Additionally, Twitter imposed “requirements” on how other smartphone applications display tweets – the 140-character posts to Twitter – including an edict that Tweets must not be displayed as part of updates on other social networking sites. Sites that do not comply would have their access to tweets choked off.
These moves potentially bring Twitter into direct conflict with other social networking sites like Facebook. In recent weeks, Twitter has already prevented LinkedIn users from automatically importing all their tweets on to the business social network. It has also revoked the ability for users of Instagram to “find your friends” from Twitter to follow on the photo app, which is being acquired by Facebook.
By moving to ensure tweets are reproduced in a more strictly way defined beyond its own site and apps, Twitter will be better placed to commercialise the activity of brands and celebrity on its network, especially as Twitter expands its platform beyond text to accommodate multimedia and apps as well.
Marco Arment, who runs Instapaper, a newsreader that allows users to clip articles shared by friends on Twitter, among other features, said Twitter was proving “unstable and unpredictable” for developers. “I sure as hell wouldn’t build a business on Twitter and I don’t think I’ll even build any non-trivial features on it any more,” he wrote on his blog.
Twitter’s moves reflect its desire to protect what executives see as its greatest commercial asset: the interests and passions that it can divine from the people and companies Twitter users, numbering hundreds of millions, choose to follow. Twitter sees this “interest graph” as more valuable to advertisers than Facebook’s “social graph”, its network of friend connections.
Twitter’s proposition to advertisers’ centres on the ability to target its “promoted tweets” and other advertisements to users based on their interests, and the company is concerned that rivals who can tap its full feed, such as LinkedIn and potentially Facebook, could hijack this data to sell their own ads around it.
This process requires ownership of the end-to-end Twitter experience, but developers have criticised Twitter for threatening to cut off popular apps such as Tweetbot and Echofon, which users say offer more advanced features than Twitter itself.
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