As of very recently, Twitter is no longer allowing software developers to access old APIs. This means that some key features of third-party Twitter apps like Tweetbot, Twitterific, Talon and Tweetings no longer work. This is both confusing and, for many, annoying.
What’s an API?
In case you’re like me and had to look this up to make sure you understood what was going on, let me save you some time.
In computer programming lingo-speak, an application programming interface (API) is a set of definitions, rules and tools for building software – so, clearly defined instructions that make it easier to develop new or additional programs by laying out all the existing building blocks.
Obviously, as computer stuff evolves, so too can APIs. A specific program or tool – like Twitter – may use a certain API during version one and a totally different API during subsequently developed versions. As such, a third-party application that was developed during version one is said to be using a “legacy API.” As long as developers are allowed to access the legacy APIs though, new APIs are not really too big a deal.
Legacy API Access, No More
Twitter has now rescinded access to its old APIs, which means third-party apps are not longer working well, if at all, with the likes of Tweetbot and Twitterific (which was the first space to use “tweet” by the way — “tweet” as it’s used in this context did not come from Twitter!) having to disable some of their core features. TechCrunch reported that Twitter tried to downplay the impact deactivating its legacy APIs would have on its community by saying that “less than 1%” of Twitter developers were using these old APIs. So, in essence, this access rescinding was NBD because only a relative few entities even used them.
According to TechCrunch, Twitter is correct in its characterization of the size of this developer base — yes, there are only a relative few developers using these old APIs — but it’s overlooking millions of third-party app users in the process.
Data from Sensor Tower (cited by TechCrunch) reports that six million App Store and Google Play users installed the top five third-party Twitter clients between January 2014 and July 2018. These include Twitterrific, Echofon, TweetCaster, Tweetbot and Ubersocial. Six million is a lot of users. Further, over the past year, these top third-party apps were downloaded 500,000 times. 500,000 is also a lot of users.
In a nutshell, Twitter just broke a lot of people’s accounts.
Why Twitter, why?
Twitter apparently wants users to engage with their own Twitter-internal apps, and these third-party apps are considered a distraction. Plus, everyone who uses a third-party app is having an experience that’s out of Twitter’s control – so they’ve put a stop to that.
Twitter has, of course, defended its actions. Rob Johnson, the Senior Director of Data Enterprise Solutions, said this move is the company “removing support for some outdated developer tools” in order to “deliver the best Twitter for you.” They did this for us!
I mean, I guess you can’t blame Twitter for wanting to rein in its universe. Plus, let’s be honest – some of those third-party apps are suuuper-duper dated. (No one believes you’re up at all hours local time. We know it’s an auto-tweet, and it’s literally not 2012 anymore so puh-leez stop doing that.) Perhaps limiting development moving forward, however, would have been a kinder approach than just saying “fuck off” to everyone who’s been around for some time now.
Also, key point: If you use any third-party apps, check your Twitter. It might be broken.
Erika Chan is a sex positive people watcher (and writer). Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.