If you want to know about the future Twitter’s attempting to build for itself, the best source is the company’s own developer blog. On Thursday, it featured a post by Twitter’s Michael Sippey outlining some changes. The piece prompted an instant flurry of commentary and speculation in the blogosphere.
Twitter is making changes to the APIs, which let third-party apps and third-party products communicate with the service. It’s laying down stricter rules about how these external properties display tweets. The post also repeats some opinions the company has expressed before about various sorts of Twitter-related products — most notably, that it doesn’t really like garden-variety Twitter clients that do roughly the same thing that Twitter’s own apps do.
The timing of the news is interesting given the recent launch of App.net, a Twitter alternative that aims to cater to developers and paying customers. And reactions to it are…diverse:
- Anil Dash believes that the news isn’t all bad— it might actually be good — and provides a helpful rewritten version of Twitter’s blog post;
- Instapaper creator Marco Arment also tries to read the tea leaves and isn’t so sanguine;
- ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Frommer says that the moves may be harsh, but Twitter’s viability — which is dependent on its ability to sell and display ads — is at risk.
Sippey’s post is titled “Changes Coming in Version 1.1 of the Twitter API.” It talks about gnarly stuff like per-endpoint rate limiting, whatever that is. It’s highly technical, which is what you’ d expect given that it’s on Twitter’s developers blog.
But developers aren’t Twitter’s only constituency. Another one is Twitter users — and for them, there’s nothing the least bit clarifying in the post. All it does is muddle matters further.
The part that’s relevant to consumers is near the bottom. Sippey divides the universe of Twitter-related apps and services into quadrants. Three of the quadrants contain items Twitter is apparently fine with, including services such as Klout and HootSuite.
Then there’s the fourth quadrant — the upper right-hand one. It includes “traditional Twitter clients” like the excellent Tweetbot (my iPad Twitter client of choice) and syndication services such as Storify (which I like to use in posts right here on TIME.com).
Sippey says that Twitter wants to “limit certain use cases” in this fourth quadrant, and that “Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of fourth-quadrant products.
So what does that mean for folks who use these apps, or ones like them? I don’t know. Sippey’s post is too oblique. And the main Twitter blog, the one aimed at non-developers, doesn’t address any of this.
Directness would be helpful here. If Twitter is telling us that Tweetbot and Storify and their competitors might be going away, it should say so. If it has no plans to try and nudge them out of existence, it should say that. If it’s saying they can survive, but only with significant changes, that matters, too.
As Sippey says in his post, Twitter started disclosing its new, cranky attitude towards third-party apps and services eighteen months ago; it must have thought these things through pretty thoroughly by now. The situation matters a lot to people who use third-party products — who, even if they’re a minority of all Twitter users, are an influential, passionate bunch.
Why not tell these serious Twitter fans what’s going on, as honestly and directly as possible?
[UPDATE: Over at Storify’s blog, there’s a post, referencing tweets from a Twitter executive, which shows that Twitter likes Storify, even though it’s in the dangerous quadrant. That’s a relief; the Twitter post doesn’t provide an inkling of that. It just mentions Storify in the midst of a discussion of services which it’s discouraging developers from building.]