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Twitter Tosses Tumblr Out of the Friend-Finding Circle

Twitter Tosses Tumblr Out of the Friend-Finding Circle

Twitter has denied Tumblr access to a friend-finding feature in its API, the latest in a trend that's seen Twitter tightening restrictions on third parties. "These different services want to make sure that other companies can't come in and cherry-pick things that are generating revenue," said analyst Rob Enderle. "So you're seeing a higher degree of restriction on third parties that build apps on top of theirs."

By Richard Adhikari
08/24/12 5:00 AM PT

Weeks after removing its find-friends feature from Instagram, Twitter has done the same to blogging service Tumblr.

Twitter's already changed the rules for app developers in version 1.1 of its API, which is coming soon.

Both parties took a low-key approach when asked to comment.

"To our dismay, Twitter has restricted our users' ability to 'Find Twitter Friends' on Tumblr," Katherine Barna, a spokesperson for Tumblr, told TechNewsWorld. "Given our history of embracing their platform, this is especially upsetting," she said.

"Some folks covering this have pointed to our comment from the Instagram situation," Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner told TechNewsWorld. That earlier comment pointed out that there's "great value" associated with Twitter's follow graph data and it's no longer available within Instagram.

"We don't have anything to share beyond that," Penner continued.

No Twits for Tumblrs

Twitter's move aroused the ire of one engineer at the company, Alex Choi, who tweeted that "this @tumblr business just stinks." Responding later to a tweeted query from Ian Howard about whether he might regret his statement, Choi tweeted "Nope, not at all. Tweet is still up and I'm still on staff."

Blocking Tumblr's find-friends on Twitter was probably a simple matter of modifying the Twitter API or turning it off, suggested Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

"The way to do it is modify [the API] or turn it off," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "If you change the programming interface from being open, that will have the same impact. It's all within the control of the platform developer [Twitter]."

Demarcating Devs' Capabilities

Changes to the forthcoming version 1.1 of the Twitter API include requiring authentication on every API end point and new rules for apps that are traditional Twitter clients. Security and a consistent user interface were among the reasons the microblogging site put forth for the modifications.

Many apps pull data from the Twitter API at very high rates through scraping, bots and other methods, and the microblogging site only knows the apps' IP addresses, Twitter said. Having visibility into the activity on the API and into the apps using the platform are needed to prevent malicious use of the API, among other things, so Version 1.1 of the Twitter API will require every request to the API to be authenticated.

Twitter's changing its display guidelines to requirements for consistency of the user experience. These will apply to both online and mobile apps. Failure to adhere to the requirements could see Twitter revoking devs' application keys.

Twitter also wants to limit services like Storify or Favstar.fm that let users interact with tweets. Further, it wants devs to continue to refrain from building client apps that mimic or reproduce its end user experience, such as Tweetbot and Echofon.

It's Just Business, Yo

The Tumblr and Instagram incidents are a continuation of a new Twitter approach that kicked off in 2011 with its shutdown of the "firehose" of tweet data it was piping to Google. Further, it reflects the Google-Facebook spat, in which Google blocked Facebook's access to its APIs and shut down Gmail users from uploading the contact data in their email address books to Facebook.

These companies have business models based on leveraging subscriber or customer data, and providing free access to that data is losing them money.

"These different services want to make sure that other companies can't come in and cherry-pick things that are generating revenue," Enderle said. "So you're seeing a higher degree of restriction on third parties that build apps on top of theirs."

We'll see more of this in the future, and "companies who try to leverage other companies' data will have to go to Plan B," Enderle continued. "If you build on a platform, you'd better make sure that you have an alternative plan if the platform owner decides you're too much in their space."


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