Friday, August 17, 2012

Twitter tightens rules on third party apps

Twitter has been criticised by app developers after it unveiled changes to the way it allows third party apps access and display tweets.

The stringent set of rules could see some apps disappear altogether. It concerns the way tweets are displayed, the number of so-called API [Application Programming Interface] endpoints accessed and even limits the number of users any one Twitter client may hold.

At present Twitter limits the number of authenticated requests applications can make to 350 calls per hour, regardless of the type of information the application is requesting.

But now Twitter is to limit this to only 60 per hour. The company claims that it is applying these restrictions because the "one size fits all approach has limited our ability to provide developers more access to endpoints that are frequently requested by applications, while continuing to prevent abuse of Twitter's resources." User lookup, profile displays and search also will be limited to 720 calls per hour per endpoint.

The changes in Twitter API V 1.1 are, according to the company, designed to foster "a consistent Twitter experience" and include universal endpoint authentication, per-endpoint rate-limiting and a number of crucial changes to the "Developer Rules of the Road." It may be the latter changes that prove most troubling to the remaining collection of third-party, consumer-focused Twitter clients.

The new rules have dispensed with "Display Guidelines" and changed them into "Display Requirements." And clients that do not adhere to the new rules could have their application key revoked.

Such measures could seriously affect users as well as those that provide Twitter interfaces. It could mean the functionality of certain APIs may not work as well as they once did, or even be forced to close operations altogether.

Twitterfall, which enables a user to stream searches, could be affected given the endpoint requests facilitated by the application. And even popular Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and Twitpic could be affected.

"If you are building a Twitter client application that is accessing the home timeline, account settings or direct messages API endpoints (typically used by traditional client applications) or are using our User Streams product, you will need our permission if your application will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens," Twitter says in a blog post. By 'tokens' it means individual users, and for Twitter clients like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, this could seriously affect they way they provide a service. Existing software clients with more than 100,000 users will be allowed to double their user base before hitting Twitter's cap, but the new rules could prove damaging.

For applications with an even larger user base that require more than one million user tokens, the developers responsible must work directly with Twitter. This policy has been in place previously, but the previous figure was five million, as reflected in Twitter's yet to be updated Rules of the Road.

Clients such as these have always been restricted, and created problems where endpoint requests have exceeded what Twitter will allow. It would result in what has in the past been referred to "Twitter jail", where the client cannot access any more tweets or other information from Twitter. The new tighter restrictions are likely to increase such problems.

Even through the Twitter website users could be thrown into Twitter Jail if they reached the limit of 100 tweets per hour or 1000 per day.

The reaction from those who build Twitter clients has been forthright. "Twitter has proven to be unstable and unpredictable, and any assurances they give about whether something will be permitted in the future has zero credibility," said Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper.

The displaying of tweets is a particular bone of contention for some. Twitter is insisting that there must be a standard set of information displayed by any Twitter client, and by failing to do so will result in Twitter revoking access [Twitter guidlines]

Despite widespread criticism, the changes have not come as a surprise to some. Twitter signalled its intentions to clamp down on its platform when it ended a syndication deal to show tweets within LinkedIn's website [LinkedIn blog].

Ultimately, it is Twitter's decision. It is their social network and it's up to them whom they licence access to. The latest move is seen as Twitter's aim to turn its hundreds of millions of members into a profitable advertising business. Whether it just alienates them, along with the third part app developers which has helped build Twitter to the global monolith it now is remains to be seen. The irony is that it was Twitter which help spread today's bad news.

[BBC / Telegraph / ZDNet / CNET / New StatesmaneConsultancyPCWorld / Mashable / FT / Guardian]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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