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Big question: what do you think of Twitter’s new API guidelines?

Our panel's views on Twitter's stricter rules concerning API use

Twitter recently caused alarm online by issuing a warning that it would be “introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used”. We asked our panel of experts for their views.

Brendan Dawes

Brendan Dawes
Designer
brendandawes.com

I really don’t have a problem with Twitter controlling its user experience much more tightly – a consistent user experience is important. The slight problem is that iOS apps such as Tweetbot are right now a much better user experience than the official Twitter app. If Twitter can put the same level of craft and love into all its output as it obviously does with other areas (like the website for instance) then that would be great. Right now though the choice of iOS apps means I can choose one that feels good to me.

Brendan is a leading digital artist and designer
 

Mark Kirby

Mark Kirby
Director at Hatch
thisishatch.co.uk
 
If Twitter’s motivation is to increase profits by tightening its hold on the data, I say, no problem. Its first duty is to its investors, and personally I believe providing the service for free to us users is ample repayment for our content. Just because a totally open API once seemed like a good idea, doesn’t mean that is always the case. As for negative effects, I suspect the majority of its users wouldn’t even notice if the API was open or closed, let alone slightly more restrictive.

Mark is the director at Hatch
 

Chris Coyier

Chris Coyier
Web designer
chriscoyier.net
    
Honestly I don’t really care. I use the official Twitter app on my iPhone. I use the official Twitter app on my Mac. I use the official Twitter website sometimes. Since these things have existed, no third party app has stuck with me, despite having tried many. So this sentiment that third-party apps ‘make’ Twitter just isn’t true for me.

Twitter is a big company and I think it should do whatever it needs to do make a bunch of money and stay a great product. Somehow it’s managed to only get better over the years and never worse. That’s pretty awesome. The only time you’ll hear me cry foul is if Twitter starts jamming ads between every other tweet or wrecking the experience in some really direct way.

Chris is a web designer working at Wufoo
 

Jonathan Smiley

Jonathan Smiley
Designer
www.zurb.com
    
The ideas Twitter put forward definitely come across as wanting to be another Facebook, but my concern is the callous way it treats developers. It’s one thing to talk about great new opportunities for developers, but the last opportunity it provided it killed as soon as it suited Twitter. It doesn’t have a track record that suggests it’s a reliable platform to build on, which is what they’re asking developers to do.

Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB
 

Jeffrey Zeldman

Jeffrey Zeldman
Founder of Happycog
happycog.com
    
To accomplish its advertising-powered revenue generating strategy, Twitter is in the ugly position of squeezing out the very developers – small companies behind apps such as Twitterific and Tweetbot – who showed what Twitter could be. Those little companies and their products made us fall in love with Twitter when we had previously been indifferent to it or unaware of it. A Twitter-API-powered ecosystem could have been the next internet superpower, as Dalton Caldwell points out in his much-read post, “What Twitter Could Have Been”. And now this will not happen. So I’m sad for my third-party developer friends, I’m sad for those founding employees at Twitter who believed in the API and were squeezed out (or left in a huff), and I’m sad for us as users, because the Twitter experience will be less and less pure, more and more commercial.

Jeffrey is founder of Happy Cog
 

Rachel Shillcock

Rachel Shillcock
Freelance web designer
www.rachil.li
    
The reason I love Twitter is because of how open it is. Facebook’s iPhone app is known for being a bit of a mess, unreliable and slow.

It’s refreshing to have companies such as Tapbots working on beautiful apps such as Tweetbot, that give you such seamless integration and interaction with a social network. If Twitter continues too far down the road of closing off and limiting its API it runs the risk of alienating both users and the developers that create wonderful apps and websites that work with Twitter. Personally, I think the best thing that Twitter could do would be to continue keeping its API open – we learn by being able to interact and develop for the services we use in our lives, and if that is taken away then there is one less thing for us, and future developers, to learn from.

Rachel is a freelance web designer
 

Rob Manuel

Rob Manuel
B3ta guy
b3ta.com
    
The game with UGC websites is finding balance between the users who supply the content and the commercial interests who want to exploit the users. If you upset the users too much you’ll have no users to exploit – if you don’t exploit them enough you won’t have enough cash to run the website.

The gatekeeper access to the user’s data is key. To maximise revenue there’ll be plenty of people who say pay for access. However, this limits the amount of applications that will be built as pay-to-play obviously keeps the interesting hobbyists away.

Twitter is growing up but maybe you’re not going to like the spotty teenager it’s going to become – more like the nerdy teenage William Hague at the Tory party conference in 1977 than the nice hippy who’ll lend you his prog rock LPs and not mind when you spill ‘tea’ all over them.

Rob is co-founder of B3ta
 

Margaret Manning

Margaret Manning
CEO
www.readingroom.com
    
Developers are understandably unnerved by Twitter’s announcement that there will be changes to its API. A lot of people make a good living from developing services that depend heavily on Twitter’s API, and a revision of the API guidelines could have a big impact on some of these people.

 While the announcement could definitely have been handled better, only the very nave didn’t see this coming. Twitter needs to start making some serious money from its advertising platform, and to do this, it needs to start tightening the API up. This is inevitably going to lead to third-party apps having to change the way they work, but it’s jumping the gun to say that the Twitter API is dead. What we will instead see is more guidelines that mean Twitter has more control over how third parties use and display the data.

In the long term, it’s in Twitter’s best interest to have a network of quality third party applications that make the service more valuable, and if that means the death of ‘enhancements’ like viewing tweets from LinkedIn, I don’t think the vast majority of users will complain.

Margaret is CEO of Reading Room
 

Anna Dahlstrom

Anna Dahlstrom
Freelance UX designer
www.annadahlstrom.com
    
Considering how many businesses and products have sprung up around Twitter’s API and how many users are using these as their primary way to consume tweets, it’s understandable that a fairly vague announcement like what Twitter released will make people nervous. However, Twitter is a business and the need for increased consistency and control is justified, but I trust it won’t be doing anything to jeopardise the existence and support of the many great services that have been developed. Or that this is how it would handle and start communicating such a radical change. Hopefully what the announcement actually will mean is increased opportunities for developers and better Twitter products across the board for users.

Anna is a freelance user experience designer
 

Paul Lloyd

Paul Lloyd
Designer
clearleft.com
    
Twitter is well within its rights to decide how its API can be used, but publishing passive aggressive blog posts rather than enforcing definitive guidelines isn’t helping its cause.

Still, the prognosis for the ecosystem that’s grown up around the service doesn’t look good. Looking more broadly, Twitter’s decision to scale the business before working out how it could make money looks to be backfiring. It turns out all the things that make Twitter great are the opposite of what’s needed to build an ad-supported business.

I’ve always felt the idea behind Twitter would have been more successful in the long term had it been designed more like a protocol rather than a product. By taking the route it did, Twitter seems destined to become another service on the web that ultimately fades into obscurity. Twitter could have been the new email. Instead it’s likely to become the next Myspace.

Paul is a visual designer at Clearleft
 

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson
Social software consultant and writer
charman-anderson.com
    
Over the years, Twitter has turned its back on obvious revenue streams such as premium accounts, unified media hosting or paid apps. It’s failed to serve business users by providing multi-user accounts, detailed analytics or access to its archive via search. (Search currently only goes back a week.) Instead it’s relying on a mass-market advertising play, and to make that work it’s locking down aspects of the API.

As usual, Twitter is failing to communicate to the developer community exactly what is going on and why, leaving third party apps developers with an uneasy sense of their own app’s mortality. Over the last couple of years Twitter has made plenty of threats, veiled or otherwise, about how its API T&Cs should be interpreted. It’s taken an ugly leaf out of Apple’s book in demanding that third party apps not replicate existing Twitter functionality, even though Twitter’s own website and apps suck. And it continues to use threatening language around ‘enforcement’ and ‘stricter guidelines’. Unfortunately, Twitter isn’t clear on exactly what that means, which makes it hard for developers to know whether they are wasting their time on an app that Twitter’s simply going to cut off.

This is a mistake by Twitter: social networks are fragile. If Twitter starts killing off the very ecosystem that made it successful, people – not just developers but users too – can and will go elsewhere. It’d rather see Twitter go back to its open API roots and develop some truly useful tools for businesses and premium users than continue down this flawed path. Relying on advertising in the middle of one of the biggest recessions of recent history is not a smart move.

Suw is a social software consultant and writer
 

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith
UX designer
sonspring.com
    
I’m not really in a position to say whether Twitter is doing the ‘right’ or  ‘wrong’ thing. But I can say it’s doing the business savvy thing. Yes, developers have enjoyed relatively unrestricted early access to Twitter’s API, and have grown accustomed to it. However, anyone building atop any third party API with some sense of entitlement is being incredibly nave. Twitter is free to do with its API whatever it wants, so developers that are up in arms about it should ask themselves why they built a business model on something as ethereal as someone else’s data in the first place.

That said, I do think that Twitter is sacrificing a bit of developer goodwill, as is evidenced by this being a topic of discussion in geekier circles. But that’s just it: to the non-nerd end-user, who is more than likely using a first party Twitter app, these changes to API access are completely transparent. For better or worse, Twitter is now ‘mainstream’ – which is the goal of most start-ups, no?

Now that Twitter is a household word, it wants to better enforce its brand. Some people think this will result in a mass exodus of developers from the Twitter ecosystem. But in reality, where do they have to go? Facebook is even more locked down with its API.

I see this not so much as a critical mistake in Twitter’s judgment, but a necessary evil in its evolution as a business. Metaphorically, one of the first things Steve Jobs did when he retook the helm at Apple was eliminate the copycats, making Apple the sole vendor of hardware on which to experience its software. I see a bit of that in Twitter’s move here. Whether that’s a good move … well, that remains to be seen.

Nathan created the 960 Grid System

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