Twitter wants to kill third party clients, bids to compete with Facebook?

Yesterday, Michael Sippey wrote an extensive blogpost on the new Twitter API on the Twitter developers blog. It talks about delivering a consistent Twitter experience as its main motivation. But in between the lines, there seem to be secondary goals. Goals of a much more strategic nature that can influence the way we are using Twitter across the board.

Naturally, the blogpost starts off with changes to the authentication process (security) and the new way in which rate limits are set. (Those limit the amount of requests your application can make through the Twitter API.) And that is al good and nice. It is pretty positive news, as it promises improvements for all of us. However, then it turns towards changes to the developer rules of the road. And this is where it gets tricky. For one, everyone now has to adhere to Twitter’s Display Guidlines. Those determine that a tweet should look the same regardless of where it is published. Which will influence a lot of the third party clients we now use to send and receive tweets. Beyond that, every new application needs to be certified by Twitter, giving them control over the whole channel. In other words, you might have an awesome idea that you can build on the back of Twitter, but if the boys at headquarters believe it is not in their best interests, you might never gain access to the Twitter API.

One of the most interesting decisions by Twitter is where they require developers to work with them directly if you need a large amount of user tokens. It is all brought in the most positive way possible, but in the end, this is where the restrictions for third party apps come into play. If you believe you will ever need access for more than one million users, you need to work with their developer team. But if you are building something that captures the home stream for a user, you need Twitter’s permission to build it if you expect it to go over 100,000. Obviously they say they will not be shutting down applications, but they do state that you can no longer grow beyond that 100,000 users point without their permission. Clients that currently have over 100,000 users can grow to twice their current size, before they too need to go to Twitter for permission to grow bigger.

This smells like control. But it gets worse. They then get into the ecosystem story around the whole thing. And at the end of that, they more or less publicly state that services like Storify, Favstar.fm are in a quadrant that they do not want to have third party apps in. So are pure Twitter clients like Echofon and Tweetbot. And that is where control really grabs a hold of Twitter HQ.

Is it imaginable that Twitter wants to go the way of Facebook? I believe so. Between the introduction of Twitter Cards and the limit to the way you can use Twitter, this seems to aim to keep the customer solely at Twitter’s website and official apps. For those of you who have not heard, Twitter Cards is more or less a preview of links posted as you would see on Facebook and Google+. Obviously, Twitter already added photo sharing last year. If you combine that with having to go through the Twitter site or specific applications for use, then you are in control of a platform that allows better advertising hence more income. Also, you might keep more people on your own service than moving towards Facebook’s timeline, as they get all their information bundled at one place just like Facebook.

Personally, I am not a fan of this approach. And I doubt whether it strategically is a good one. Twitter grew on the back of the third party apps that allowed easy access in the way people wanted to use Twitter. In fact, the way users have used Twitter, has never really been the way in which it was planned by Twitter in the first place. And that is what made them big. Twitter only wanted single sided statements online. Users wanted conversations, users invented hashtags and retweets to facilitate those conversations. Twitter has picked up on some of them, but has overruled others.

This is going to be an interesting race. Twitter has a huge following, but will it stay with Twitter as it apparently tries to grow into a network that can rival Facebook and Google+ etc. for the users’ attention? Specifically as Twitter seems to always ignore the users’ requests and follow a slightly different course. What are your thoughts? Let me know.

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