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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Twitter Isn't Cutting off App Developers

Pretty much everyone who wrote about Twitter’s latest announcement got the story wrong.

  • March 20, 2011

Ryan Sarver, a member of the platform team at Twitter, screwed up when trying to communicate to developers of 3rd party applications about what Twitter would not like them to do, going forward. And he admits it.

Twitter’s media fail (whale)
(cc) Douglas Cootey

Last week, after a thread of hostile emails and a bunch of media coverage followed his Friday afternoon announcement of changes to Twitter’s stance on 3rd party twitter apps, he added this to a thread in which Raffi Krikorian, head of application services at Twitter, had tried to address developer’s criticisms:

To be clear, Raffi is clearly articulating the situation. It’s a complex thing and we can’t expect to get it perfectly right the first time, so the dialogue and questions are great.

Raffi is also a much better communicator than I am :)

Krikorian’s Sarver-approved string of clarifications explained that Twitter is definitely not cutting off application developers from access to Twitter’s free API. Rather, Twitter is apparently “setting a much higher bar” for clients that simply reproduce the functionality of the existing desktop twitter clients and Twitter.com.

Contrary to most of the reports of Sarver’s announcement, many of which appear to have been written without regard for Krikorian’s subsequent clarifications, this does not mean that your favorite Twitter client is about to go extinct. You may continue to use TweetDeck or (my favorite) Yorufukurou with impunity!

On the other hand, this does mean that Twitter appears to be taking steps toward standardizing its user experience. It’s not Steve Jobs-level, app-store approval-required “our way or the highway” – yet. Krikorian makes it clear that Twitter encourages, for example, hobbyist developers to continue to use Twitter’s free API for whatever experiments they wish. Twitter also encourages “innovative” uses of Twitter that filter and mash-up Tweets in new and interesting ways.

Apps that simply post to Twitter are of course also encouraged: how else will Twitter compete with Facebook to be the web’s default identity system?

But building an entire business on a Twitter client that does exactly what Twitter’s in-house clients do, but doesn’t really conform to their usability guidelines? Like the fail whale, that probably won’t fly.

Follow Mims on Twitter or contact him via email.

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