Twitter calmly explains why it broke your favorite apps

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Twitter
Many of the features of Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and similar apps just stopped working. Twitter's CEO tells us why.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Despite protests, Twitter made changes today that break some features of popular third-party apps. The company’s CEO explains that all Twitter is doing is finally enforcing a 9-year-old policy.

Rob Johnson says the company will no longer devote resources to apps it didn’t want built in the first place. The situation is a bit more complex that that, though.

“In 2011, we told developers (in an email) not to build apps that mimic the core Twitter experience,” Johnson explained. “In 2012, we announced changes to our developer policies intended to make these limitations clearer by capping the number of users allowed for a 3rd party client.”

At the same time, the Twitter executive admits there have been mixed messages. The company “quietly granted user cap exceptions to the clients that needed them.” This is despite the fact that these third-party applications reproduced the core features of the Twitter app.

A tale of two APIs

The third-party Twitter software being discussed require a pair of  APIs from the company to send notifications to people who use these apps. “The User Streams and Site Streams APIs that serve core functions of many of these clients have been in a ‘beta’ state for more than 9 years, and are built on a technology stack we no longer support,” said Johnson.

As of today, these APIs have been replaced with an Account Activity API which doesn’t do everything its predecessors did. More importantly, it’s limited to 35 Twitter accounts, making it completely unsuitable for apps with thousands of users.

Johnson’s email stated “We’re not changing our rules, or setting out to ‘kill’ 3rd party clients; but we are killing, out of operational necessity, some of the legacy APIs that power some features of those clients. And it has not been a realistic option for us today to invest in building a totally new service to replace these APIs, which are used by less than 1% of Twitter developers.”

What it means for Twitter apps

Tweetbot is one of the third-party applications affected by Twitter shutting down those two APIs. Changes it has been forced to make to its functionality are indicative of what it will mean for similar software. The version of the app released yesterday no longer includes Timeline streaming, the Activity and Stats tabs,  or push notifications for Likes, Retweets, Follows, and Quotes. The Apple Watch app has also been discontinued.

Twitterrific has been forced to make similar changes.