It became apparent this weekend that Twitter deliberately shut off loads of third-party apps (Tweetbot and Twitteriffic to name two), sparking widespread concern. Why did they do this and what does it mean for future Twitter integrations?
Developers In The Dark
Several third-party apps all stopped working around the same time at the weekend, and it wasn’t long before people realised it had been done deliberately. The shutdown caused outrage amongst developers because of how quickly the shutdown happened, and the complete radio silence from Twitter.
The apps affected were popular ones many people use to view Twitter, rather than interact inside the Twitter app itself. Tweetbot, for example, has been around for over ten years with many people preferring the ease of the app rather than dealing with Twitter’s confusing and let’s face it, not brilliant app.
API issues have occurred in the past, they happen all the time between platforms and developers, but the key difference in this instance was the lack of communication. Breakages, errors, or scheduled downtime are always communicated. It’s pretty simple but this is what keeps relationships good and why people invest their time in the Twitter developer platform. Keep in mind that Twitter said less than a month ago that they would continue to invest in their developer platform, particularly the Twitter API:
Got it. So what you posted a month ago when these apps had been running for a DECADE without issue … was that a lie? I guess just let us know if we need to close our accounts if you’ve got no intention of actually doing quite literally what you said you’d do. pic.twitter.com/abu3c11k2o
— Peter Schmalfeldt (@mrmidi) January 17, 2023
Why Did Twitter Switch Off Many Third-Party Apps?
The official answer to this question came almost four days after the event and contained just two sentences:
Twitter is enforcing its long-standing API rules. That may result in some apps not working.
— Twitter Dev (@TwitterDev) January 17, 2023
But developers were not buying this answer at all, and the ‘explanation’ just caused more anger in the community. Twitter says some apps are breaking long-standing rules, whilst developers claim they’ve done no such thing as they haven’t changed anything.
Has this account been hacked? Who is writing this? This is poorly written and super uninformative.
(terms of service, not “rules”)
(Not working? Do you mean banned / revoked access / rate limited?)
— Amir Shevat (@ashevat) January 18, 2023
People quickly started to speculate on the real reason and the consensus now is that this is a last-ditch attempt by Twitter to try and claw back ad revenue. Let me explain…
It’s no coincidence that the apps affected by the shutdown are those used to interact with Twitter rather than using the Twitter app itself. For every person using one of these apps, such as Tweetbot, Twitter technically loses ‘eyes on ads’ as many third-party apps don’t show adverts to users.
You could argue that Twitter is doing what any other business would do by looking after its own best interests. But, the reason so many people are driven to use these apps in the first place is because of the poor user experience the Twitter app provides. That’s the entire reason these third-party apps exist – not as a getaway from ads.
It Isn’t surprising Twitter want to try and gain back ad revenue – it was announced just yesterday that 500 advertisers have left the platform since Elon Musk took over the platform, with ad revenue down by 40% since last year.
Could switching off these third-party apps be a desperate attempt to encourage more people back into using the Twitter app? Is Twitter completely oblivious to the fact that advertisers are pulling away from Twitter, not because people use third-party apps and don’t see their ads, but because companies simply don’t want to be associated with the platform since Elon Musk’s controversial takeover?
Why Do We Care?
Although not directly affected by the shutdowns, we do use third-party apps that integrate with Twitter. Some of them are essential to the work we do, social media marketing, for example. If Twitter can just shut down majorly popular apps overnight, offer a poor explanation and then refuse to communicate any further on the matter, what are they going to do next?
If the third-party platforms we depend on were to be shut down in the same abrupt way, it would cause major headaches and disrupt normal business flow.
Twitter has been chaotic since Musk took over, with users and advertisers alike abandoning the platform. Now, many developers are threatening to do the same and we’re all left wondering when the normal order of things will be resumed.