The changes Twitter is making to its API policies triggered a wave of protest among its developers, but they might be necessary for the strategy Twitter has laid out for itself to make money and keep growing its service.
The stricter rules on how developers can make use of its Twitter stream appear to be tied to the company's efforts to bring in more revenue from advertising and potentially other sources. To achieve that, Twitter believes it must provide a consistent experience for users who access its service, instead of the hodgepodge of interfaces they have today from third-party clients.
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That means tighter rules for developers, who are now being encouraged to develop within Twitter itself. But the way Twitter has communicated the changes, as well as the ambiguity of its guidelines -- it hasn't said yet exactly what its "stricter rules" will entail -- have stirred discontent among some developers.
The most recent scuffle began with a blog post two weeks ago, in which Twitter reminded developers it doesn't want them to build Twitter clients that mimic the "mainstream Twitter consumer client experience."
Instead, it wants them to focus on building "more interactive experiences within expanded tweets." It highlighted its recently introduced "Twitter cards," which are tweets that can be expanded with a click to display an image, video clip or the summary of a news story, for instance, all within the standard Twitter interface.
"The technology behind expanded Tweets ... gives developers and publishers a way to tell richer stories on Twitter, directly within Tweets and drive traffic back to their sites," it said.
At the same time, it began clamping down on third-party applications that offer users alternative ways to view their Twitter stream. Most notably, LinkedIn said users would no longer be able to view their stream of tweets on its website, though they can still post tweets from LinkedIn.
Some developers balked, believing Twitter might soon shut them out, too.
"The mistake we all made with Twitter, me too, was to think a corporate API could act like an open protocol," software developer Dave Winer said in a tweet.
Kwasi Frye, of Clearly Innovative, a software design and development company, said Twitter was sending signals that "it is not going to continue to be supportive of developers mimicking the Twitter platform -- or pretty much anything they're doing with the API."
The responses stem in part from the difficult relationship Twitter has had lately with its developers. After its launch in 2006, Twitter encouraged developers to get creative with its platform. Some of its core features, including retweeting, originated outside the company. Third-party applications such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, Echofon and CoTweet proliferated.