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Twitter Wants to Keep Devs' Hands Out of the Cookie Jar

Twitter Wants to Keep Devs' Hands Out of the Cookie Jar

Twitter is instituting new rules designed to keep third-party developers from riding its coat tails. "They don't want [them] to figure out a front end solution, but use Twitter's backend and take the revenue," said tech analyst Rob Enderle. "Thus Twitter wants to make sure they keep the value and that the ad revenue flows back to Twitter."

By Peter Suciu
08/17/12 3:26 PM PT

While Twitter restricts users to just 140 characters in a single tweet, its developers are limited to just three characters -- namely its "API" -- and it's cracking down on that. Twitter announced Friday that it will further restrict developer access to its API -- discouraging services that tend to replicate the Twitter experience, among other things.

These changes reportedly will be incorporated into the 1.1 version of the Twitter API, which will be released in the coming weeks. Developers will be forced to follow new rules, including a limit on authentication and authenticated requests.

"Twitter is growing up," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst for Netpop Research. "It has developed a powerful ecosystem and recognizes that a little structure will benefit developers -- but most of all, the end user."

Twitter did not respond to our request for further details.

Taking Control

For those who use Twitter through its own client apps to send tweets or check a tweet stream, not a whole lot will change. But with the new 1.1 version of the Twitter API, users of third-party applications will see some improvements -- plus potential concerns down the line.

"With their new release, Twitter has given developers better understanding around what they can do with the API," said Crandall. "Developers will have more confidence investing resources into the platform. They have also released the cap on API calls, so developers can use it more, and more reliably."

This all sounds good, so not much reason for concern here. Where some developers might have concern is that Twitter could be limiting how much access the third parties have in sending and reading tweets.

"With this change in the rules, Twitter is definitely 'clamping down," said Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence. "It's trying to control its brand and presentation of content in third-party use cases, and it may even be trying to discourage third parties. As with LinkedIn, it's trying to drive people through Twitter's own properties."

Good Will Tweeting?

The question is whether this type of move will actually drive those users to Twitter's own apps or simply drive them away instead. It wouldn't be difficult to believe that people can live without sharing those 140-character microblog posts.

"Twitter is certainly burning some developer good will here. After it built its business on the basis of third-party development, it now seems to be saying we don't need you anymore," Sterling told the E-Commerce Times.

"Ultimately, it's not going to hurt Twitter however," he added. "It will just anger some developers and people in the tech community for a time -- with no measurable lasting impact on usage."

But why risk losing the good will at all? It could come down to not making mistakes others have made.

"I think they don't want a Facebook problem," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "They want to control the experience. They want to make sure they are getting advertising credit, and they don't want to be cherry picked."

Twitter doesn't want third-party developers essentially to ride its coat tails and take away revenue.

"They don't want the developers to figure out a front end solution, but use Twitter's backend and take the revenue," emphasized Enderle. "Thus Twitter wants to make sure they keep the value and that the ad revenue flows back to Twitter."

Apple's Playbook

Toward this end, Twitter is taking a page from the playbook that Apple essentially wrote when it came to apps. This ensures that Twitter doesn't become irrelevant in the very space it actually created.

"They are taking a page from Apple's book where you don't let the third parties compromise the user experience," Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

But could this backfire?

"As long as the developer can make money, this shouldn't be a problem," he stressed. "If they go too far, then the developers won't stay with the platform. That could result in something that becomes better than Twitter, and the users could migrate away. But it is a double-edged sword, because if the developers take over the front end and take the money, they (Twitter) still lose. What needs to happen is that Twitter just ensures everyone makes money."


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