Twitter’s platform at 5 years

Twitter recommended upgrading to OAuth “for optimal security” and so developers don’t need to “worry about the user changing their password”. While I dislike APIs that break old clients, I saw mostly the good things about OAuth, framed around letting the user approve access to their own account.

Seven months ago, as Twitter was finishing the OAuth transition, “Buzz Andersen tweeted this”:http://twitter.com/buzz/statuses/21402358130:

“Twitter isn’t just enforcing OAuth for technical reasons: it’s a way of taking control of the platform.”

I’m not sure I got it at the time. Twitter was all about open APIs, right? They encouraged new clients, and the original Mac client Twitterrific had “brought a lot of innovation and standards”:http://furbo.org/2011/03/11/twitterrific-firsts/ to the platform. Why would they need this level of control?

“The email from Ryan Sarver”:http://groups.google.com/group/twitter-development-talk/browse_thread/thread/c82cd59c7a87216a/7dd46c26157c9e29 last week showed part of how Twitter is changing as a company, refocusing from building a network to selling a product. Reading between the lines, it seems that to effectively sell ads, Twitter feels they need to control the user experience. On Twitter clients:

“Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.”

Disappointing. At a panel on the Twitter API at SXSW, that sadly no one from Twitter in Austin knew about, the mood was pretty dim. I said to the room that we expected more from Twitter.

Then over the weekend, Ryan clarified: “we are saying it’s not a good business to be in but we aren’t shutting them off or telling devs they can’t build them.” There’s still plenty of uncertainty, but that’s a more hopeful message. I collected some additional “related tweets on tweetlibrary.com”:http://tweetlibrary.com/manton/twitterapirules.

Many people during SXSW asked me what this means for Tweet Library. Is Tweet Library a mainstream Twitter client? It has all the basic features of a normal client, but no, not really. It’s meant to be something more, something unique that solves problems no one else is working on, least of all Twitter.

I’m a little discouraged, but not enough to stop. I owe it to my customers to finish what I started: to fix bugs, add new features, polish the rough edges, and make Tweet Library the best app on the Twitter platform.