The third-party apps that Twitter just killed made the site what it is today


The age of great third-party Twitter clients may be over. After Twitter shut down access to their API and changed their rules to ban apps that compete with their apps, The Iconfactory has announced that it is discontinuing Twitterific, Fenix pulled from app stores, and Tapbots posted a memo for Tweetbot. That’s a loss for all the people who used the apps, and almost certainly a loss for Twitter itself.

As many people have pointed out over the past week, third-party clients helped make Twitter the platform it is today, innovating the parts of Twitter we take for granted and, in the early days, helping shape the company’s identity. They have also acted as a safe haven from unwanted changes, helping to keep people on Twitter when they were ready to abandon the platform.

Twitter has not included a bird in its logo until 2010. Here’s a screenshot from Twitterific’s website in 2007, where the bird explains how to install the Mac app. The iPhone App Store wouldn’t come until a year later.
Image: Icon Factory

Take, for example, the word I just used: tweet. The idea that a “tweet” would be what we call a Twitter post didn’t actually come from the company itself, according to a blog post by Twitterific developer Craig Hockenberry. Instead, it was suggested by The Iconfactory’s third-party client QA tester, Blaine Cook, and immediately accepted. It wasn’t until a year later that Twitter started using the phrase as well. (Twitter originally preferred “twittering”). Twitterific also led the way in using the bird logo.

Third-party apps have had a big impact on how we use smartphone apps in general, not just Twitter. A client called Tweetie is widely credited with inventing the pull-to-refresh interaction that is almost ubiquitous on iOS and Android for refreshing. of all kinds feed Even if you haven’t heard of Tweetie before, chances are you’ve used it; In 2010, Twitter acquired it and made it an official iPhone client. In 2015, the company also hired another third-party client developer to improve its Android app.

A screenshot of Tweetie 2 compared to Twitter for iPhone.

Left: Tweetie 2 in 2010. Right: Twitter for iPhone in 2011.
Images: Tweetie / Twitter via The Wayback Machine

It’s also not the only time Twitter has acquired a popular third-party client. Part of TweetDeck The Verge‘s news section was a standalone app for years until the company bought it.

Users of third-party clients, numbering in the millions as of 2018, often enjoyed features years before they entered the official app. Echofon added the ability to mute unwanted users and hashtags in 2011, which is a feature of the official versions. not received until 2014.

A screenshot of the Echofon Twitter app showing the timeline view.

Echophone screenshot from 2011.
Screenshot: Echophone via The Wayback Machine

The apps also acted as a safe haven from Twitter’s changes; they didn’t have the barrage of suggested and irregular tweets that the official app had, and they gave us a chance to use the Twitter app for Mac when the official one was discontinued for a year. And, yes, people have used third-party clients to get an ad-free Twitter experience, not because they purposefully removed ads, but because Twitter didn’t serve them through the API. (Side note: It’s hard to believe that Twitter couldn’t force alternative apps to serve ads if it wanted to or needed to).

At times, Twitter has seemingly recognized the added value of external developers. “Third-party customers have had a significant impact on the Twitter service and the products we build,” it said Memorandum of 2018 Rob Johnson, who was the company’s developer platform lead at the time. “Independent developers created the first Twitter client for Mac and the first native app for iPhone. These customers have driven the product features we all know and love.” And in 2010 blog postTwitter said people who used third-party clients were “among the most active and frequent users,” noting that “a disproportionate amount of traffic from Twitter goes through such tools.”

Despite the accolades, Twitter’s relationship with third-party developers has often been fraught. There was a rule in the company’s developer agreement that forbade alternative apps that competed with its official clients, and for years the company had introduced new features it didn’t support in its API, meaning third-party clients couldn’t. have them.

Before Musk took over, however, the company appeared to be making adjustments. It clarified its rules with the express intention of making things easier for third-party clients, became more communicative, and its API v2 finally gave developers access to features like polls and group DMs. In late 2021, Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad told me that “the pace of development and openness has improved significantly compared to some of the darker days.” And in 2022, he called the company releasing v2 of its home timing API “an indication that they’re going to continue to allow and even encourage alternative customers.”

It’s not just third-party clients that have improved the Twitter experience. There are several other external tools that have improved the experience, such as Thread Reader, Block Party or Twitlonger. (Historically, Twitter users relied on a third-party tool called TwitPic to post pictures to the site before the feature was introduced.) Most of those apps still seem to work, but as we’ve seen, that could change. at any time, and Twitter has the option to prevent you from posting links to them.

Of course, doing so would likely lead to massive user backlash and degrade the service. But based on recent Twitter activity, it wasn’t out of the question.

I’m not trying to argue that Twitter has never built features on its own or accepted user suggestions on its own, because it has. (The retweet, hashtag, and @ tag are popularly invented by users, sometimes with the help of third-party apps, but Twitter has implemented them effectively.) the client is going to produce better ideas than one company can on its own.

Elon Musk just decided to throw it all away. Twitter has sharply cut itself off from that stream of ideas—the stream that produced its apps, some of its most popular features, and much of its core identity. Even if he backs off, why would developers waste their best ideas on a company that has burned them so badly?



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