Twitter API Changes Annoy Developers

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Twitter has announced stricter guidelines on how the Twitter API (Application Programming Interface)  can be used, in an attempt to stop third-party apps from taking its revenue.

Twitter API version 1.1 will introduce limits on the number of users that can access Twitter through an app, and encourage closer interaction between developers and the company.

The changes, announced on Thursday and due to be implemented over the next six months, have disappointed the developer community, prompting some to say they would stop developing for Twitter altogether.

Martial law

Since Twitter bought the Tweetdeck client, it has launched a crusade to limit the powers of other traditional Twitter clients like Tweetbot or Echofon, while encouraging development of other types of apps, dealing with analytics, media integration, and the enterprise side of things. The company has clearly said it doesn’t want others to “build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.”

The most important change coming with the Twitter API 1.1 is the 100,000 user limit. Anyone looking to expand beyond the 100,000 “individual user tokens” will need express Twitter permission to do so. If an application already has more than 100,000 users, it will be able to maintain and add new users up to the limit of 200,000, but that’s it.

Currently, Twitter sometimes allows developers to access public data without identifying themselves. Under the new rules, the company will require authentication on every single API request. This is done to prevent malicious use, as well as to gain deeper understanding of what types of applications are accessing the API. Apps which do not use authentication will need to update their settings before March 2013.

The site is also limiting the number of API calls that can be made in an hour, with most individual endpoints capped at 60. This should be enough for the majority of applications. However, endpoints related to Tweet display, profile display, user lookup and user search will be able to make up to 720 calls per hour.

Twitter has also changed terminology to reflect its tougher stance: for example, “Display Guidelines” have now become “Display Requirements”, and will apply to mobile apps as well as those for desktop systems, in order to “ensure that Twitter users have a consistent experience wherever they see and interact with Tweets”. The company says it will punish non-conformists by revoking their application keys.

Another change in rules regarding mobile apps will require developers working on native smartphone and tablet apps to have their application certified by Twitter.

Starting from Thursday, developers will have six months to migrate applications from API version 1.0 to 1.1.

Software designers and Twitter users have reacted to the changes with anger and disappointment. “Twitter has left themselves a lot of wiggle-room with the rules. Effectively, Twitter can decide your app is breaking a (potentially vague) rule at any time, or they can add a new rule that your app inadvertently breaks, and revoke your API access at any time,” wrote Marco Arment, creator of popular reading service Instapaper.

“I sure as hell wouldn’t build a business on Twitter, and I don’t think I’ll even build any nontrivial features on it anymore,” he added.

Twitter has 500 million users, 10 million of them in the UK. Earlier this year, the microblogging platform updated its backend, claiming it would allow tweets to load five times faster.

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