We all knew this was coming. In the five years that it’s been around Twitter has been a uniquely free and open platform, a friend to entrepreneurial developers and generally a pretty cool little company. But now that it’s a big boy company, the microblogging platform is doing what big boy companies do: hunkering down and making money.
On Thursday evening, Twitter announced that it would be limiting access to its API for third party developers. They’re essentially limiting the number of users these apps can have, an assertive move towards cutting off access to its data altogether. “If your application already has more than 100,000 individual user tokens, you’ll be able to maintain and add new users to your application until you reach 200% of your current user token count (as of today) — as long as you comply with our Rules of the Road,” Twitter’s director of consumer products Michael Sippey wrote in the announcement post. “Once you reach 200% of your current user token count, you’ll be able to maintain your application to serve your users, but you will not be able to add additional users without our permission.”
They’re calling it version 1.1. It’s worth pointing out that Twitter isn’t cutting off all access to its data. Sippey actually encourages developers to tap into its API and use that data to do things that Twitter itself isn’t doing. But one thing Twitter is doing more aggressively than ever: watching out for its bottom line. Last year, the company announced that over a million apps had been built on top of its platform and new ones were flowing in at the rate of one app every 1.5 seconds. That’s a lot of apps! Of course, it isn’t free to support the hundreds of thousands of developers building things on top of Twitter, and apps not run by Twitter can’t be monetized by Twitter.
Then there’s the advertising plan. Twitter’s been slowly rolling out its revenue strategy to users, currently in the form of so-called “promoted tweets,” since 2011 when they pulled in $139.5 million. These new limitations on the Twitter API also help ensure that those precious, money-making ads stay in Twitter’s native ecosystem. This is part of the “clean, consistent experience” the company is trying to create. This makes sense for advertisers, who want to know ahead of time where their ad will show up and who will see it. As such, Twitter’s also imposed a new set of guidelines for how tweets should be displayed by third party apps. One main requirement: they’re not allowed to display any ads or any other non-Twitter content thus limiting the amount of revenue those apps are able to create.
If you’re a fan of apps like Tweetbot or Twitterific, this all probably sounds pretty oppressive. Considering the other grown up company moves that Twitter’s made in the past year or so — like agreeing to cooperate with governments and censor tweets at their request — it does look like Twitter’s up to no good. Then again, making money and working with governments is what big companies do, and it’s probably safe to say that Twitter is no longer a scrappy startup. It’s just like the rest of them now.