Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Twitter Changes Its API Rules, Makes Sure Monetization Strategy Works Out

Clarified that restrictions only apply to “core clients.” (March 16, 2011, 11:44)

You might have heard that Twitter recently updated their Twitter API Rules. In case you don’t know (or care), Twitter provides an extensive web API which allows you to perform all the critical functions from third party applications over the internet.

Together with the changes came a lengthy post explaining in particular the restrictions on applications to provide a “consistent user experience”, whatever that is supposed to mean.

In essence, and the post is pretty clear about it, Twitter does not want third party clients for Twitter. The new rules forbid to provide one of the core Twitter functionalities like tweeting, retweeting, and in particular trends in a way which differs too much from how the official Twitter clients do. TechCrunch has a nice post summarizing Twitter’s position.

While I agree that it makes sense to have core functionalities consistently named and designed, the changed API rules also specifically mention user suggestions and trending topics. I think that Twitter is missing out on a big chance to make their service more valuable by discouraging people from putting more advanced trending and recommender algorithms into clients.

Discoverability of interesting content has always been one of Twitter’s weak points. The currently available user suggestions and trending topics are certainly a first step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. For example, I think that trending topics need to be much more customized to the individual user than the global topics available right now. The sheer volume of tweets on Twitter means that there are literally thousands of topics being discussed at any given time, and not all of those topics are interesting to everyone. Global trends are dominated by the masses, but not everyone shares the masses’s interests.

Strictly speaking, these restrictions only apply to “core clients” which provide an essential part of the Twitter functionality. Twitter does encourage people to build publisher tools, curation, or real-time analysis tools. But still, what good are these tools if they aren’t integrated into your Twitter client? Wouldn’t you want to easily access neat stuff like individualized trending topics from your client instead of having to switch apps or go to a different web-site?

So why has Twitter chosen to deliberately force clients to conform with their standards and use their suggestions and trending topics? You only need to look at their current plans to make money to understand why. You can pay Twitter to have your tweets, users or topics show up in people’s timelines, user suggestions, or trending topics. I’m sure Twitter would be having a hard time charging for this service if people could just switch their client to make all that noise disappear.

I might be wrong, but to me this looks a lot like “consistence user experience” primarily means “make sure the users will consistently see the ads people have paid for.”

Posted by at 2011-03-15 21:03:00 +0100

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