The Future Of Third-Party Twitter Apps Doesn’t Look Very Promising

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Your favorite third-party Twitter app's days may be numbered.
Your favorite third-party Twitter app's days may be numbered.

Last March, Twitter told the developer community to stop making third-party apps and clients that “mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” Twitter said, “We need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way.”

Fast forward more than a year later, and Twitter is slowly moving away from an open platform for developers to build upon. Twitter plans to implement stricter API guidelines for developers, and while there’s no concrete evidence that Twitter will shut down third-party apps altogether, the current landscape of great apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific could look very different in coming months.

According to a report from The Verge, “major changes are coming in the next few months which will move Twitter from an open platform popular among independent developers towards a walled garden more akin to Facebook.” Instead of an open API that developers can use to power full-featured apps like Twittelator Neue, third-party clients that replace Twitter’s own app experience could be in the company’s sights. According to The Verge:

Twitter won’t become a walled garden disconnected to the open web. But the company leadership does believe the best way to attract big brand advertisers and create meaningful revenue is to adopt a closed ecosystem, similar to Facebook, in which users access the service mainly through the company’s website and mobile apps, rather than third party clients. The company doesn’t want to deal with fragmentation across different services, where it would have to work with API partners to ensure advertising and rich media was being properly displayed. This would become increasingly challenging, as sources familiar with Twitter’s plans say that it’s hoping to bring a number of new services into the Twitter stream, everything from booking a restaurant reservation to purchasing an item to playing a game.

Twitter’s approach makes sense from a business perspective. The social network has been doing brand promotions, and you don’t want a large number of eyeballs on a third-party client to be excluded because the app somehow hides promotions. Tweetbot for iOS allows you to ‘mute’ a Twitter account in the app’s timeline, effectively hiding that account’s tweets. Twitter is becoming a full-fledged media company with big advertising partners and expandable tweets, and it’s becoming harder to ensure that everyone has the same experience across clients and operating systems.

What’s even scarier is that a leaked internal build of Twitter for iPhone no longer displays what app a tweet was sent from. The omission could mean nothing, or it could mean everything for third-party Twitter apps.

We all love our favorite Twitter app. Twitter itself owns a decent iOS app and sorely ignored Mac app for Apple users, and the company also owns TweetDeck. If Twitter did indeed start to squeeze out popular clients like Tweetbot and Echofon, third-party app users and developers would be completely outraged. Twitter became what it is today because of awesome developers making great app experiences. Heck, the official Twitter for iPhone and Mac apps exist because Twitter bought Tweetie! Choking out third-party devs would be a fantastic way for Twitter to piss off its loyal group of core power users. The question is this: Has Twitter become big enough to not care about biting the hand that feeds?

Developers are concerned about the future of third-party Twitter apps, and you should be too.