Are you entitled to Twitter’s API?
Twitter shut off it’s API to LinkedIn, and released a post about delivering a consistent twitter experience. I’ve seen interpretations of the Twitter post ranging from ‘don’t mimic twitter’s functionality and you’ll be alright’ to ‘Twitter is killing its own ecosystem‘.
Are you entitled to your Twitter entitlement?
Why Twitter Has An API in the first place
Offering an API is a strategic choice. They involve tradeoffs.
An API costs Twitter:
- Money to serve, develop, and maintain
- Risk, from consumers and competitors alike
What Twitter gets in return:
- Scale, in the form of features that are not, will not, or cannot be built by Twitter itself, that are built by other companies
- Innovation, in the form of observing the ecosystem around its API, learning from them, and buying out the best and/or most complimentary companies
- Asymmetrical advantages, in the form of negotiating with potential partners and emerging competitors
In this context, of a value exchange between capital (both human and physical) and Twitter:
- You, as a developer, will build functionality to support Twitter and both current and prospective customers of Twitter, in exchange for access to the API.
- In so doing, You will attract more customers to Twitter, as well as take on more innovation risk that you cannot or will not do.
However, what are the expectations of that relationship?
Should the developer:
- Expect the rug to be pulled out from under them at any time?
- Expect that so long as the Terms of Service are respected, Twitter will not harm the developer by cutting off their access at whim?
- Expect that the API will remain unchanged forever?
- Expect that intellectual property developed by the developer be respected by Twitter?
- Expect that the API is always up, stable, and free?
- Expect that developers will build features for an API that may be terminated at any time?
- Expect that an arbitrary environment will generate preference for Twitter development?
- Expect that developers will support the costs associated with frequent API changes?
- Expect that it can buy out any company at whim?
- Expect that developers will invest capital (human and physical) in supporting an unstable API?
It’s where power, and the perception of power, intersects with those expectations.
Twitter may say, ‘we have the audience, we have the features, so screw you’.
Developers, while individually weak, may collectively say, ‘we have the talent, we have the features, so screw you’.
(And just look at how developer flight can have long term impacts on platforms, see: mobile, game consoles).
What about the users?
If the product is free, you are the product.
All mass platforms are obsessed with your user experience, because you are the source of their power, legitimacy, and ultimately, money.
It’s a game that all startups play. And, there’s a board game that codifies that relationship.
What about the customers?
By customers of a platform, I mean those who exchange money for value. That’s indeed what the ecosystem is about.
Set Your Expectations Accordingly
Nobody is telling you that you must use the Twitter API. It’s not as though there’s plenty of opportunity elsewhere.
Put another way:
- If you expect that Twitter will misunderstand the value of its own ecosystem in coming years, then you have no reason to invest capital (human and physical) into supporting them.
- If you expect that Twitter will continue to understand the value of its own ecosystem in coming years, then you may have reason to invest capital (human and physical) into supporting them.
I reject the notion that we’re all entitled to an API.
I put forward the notion that, as free people, we are free to form our own expectations and make decisions accordingly.
I’m Christopher Berry.
Follow me @cjpberry
I blog at christopherberry.ca