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The Twitter API Platform’s Future

Twitter today disclosed future plans for its API platform and published a public roadmap where developers can track the company’s progress.

One of the most significant changes announced is that later this year the company will be unifying its API platform, combining the strengths of its Gnip APIs with its more affordable REST and streaming APIs. This will simplify the platform and provide more powerful APIs at, in theory, lower costs to developers with smaller-scale needs – though pricing plans have not been announced at this point.

The announcement post contains many details on the API platform’s future, but a few specific things are highlighted which launch today or in the short-term future:

  • Today, we launched the Account Activity API, which provides access to real-time events for accounts you own or manage, with delivery via webhooks.
  • Today, we also launched a set of new Direct Message API endpoints that will enable developers to build on the new Direct Message features we recently announced.
  • Later this year, we’ll launch a new set of tools that enable developers to sign up, access, and manage APIs within a self-managed account. This will including the ability to get deeper access and more features, all with a transparent pricing model.
  • We’ll also be shipping a new Search API that provides free access to a 7-day lookback window with more sophisticated query capabilities and higher fidelity data retrieval than is currently available. We’ll also provide a seamless upgrade path to full-fidelity 30-day or full archive lookback windows.

Twitter’s openness regarding its plans should be an encouragement to anyone who depends on third-party Twitter clients like Tweetbot or Twitterrific. The Direct Message API, for example, will now support media attachments like the official Twitter app.

Although it may be some time before we see today’s announcements bring specific benefits to third-party apps, Twitter has had a rocky relationship with developers in the past, and today’s announcement is a sign of commitment to its API platform and developers.

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Twitter Intentionally Ends Third-Party App Developer Access to Its APIs

Late yesterday, The Information reported that it had seen internal Twitter Slack communications confirming that the company had intentionally cut off third-party Twitter app access to its APIs. The shut-down, which happened Thursday night US time, hasn’t affected all apps and services that use the API but instead appears targeted at the most popular third-party Twitter clients, including Tweetbot by Tapbots and Twitterrific by The Iconfactory. More than two days later, there’s still no official explanation from Twitter about why it chose to cut off access to its APIs with no warning whatsoever.

To say that Twitter’s actions are disgraceful is an understatement. Whether or not they comply with Twitter’s API terms of service, the lack of any advanced notice or explanation to developers is unprofessional and an unrecoverable breach of trust between it and its developers and users.

Twitter’s actions also show a total lack of respect for the role that third-party apps have played in the development and success of the service from its earliest days. Twitter was founded in 2006, but it wasn’t until the iPhone launched about a year later that it really took off, thanks to the developers who built the first mobile apps for the service.

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Third-Party Twitter Clients Remove Features as API Changes Loom

The latest chapter in Twitter’s contentious relationship with third-party developers is coming to a close. In April 2017, Twitter announced plans to eventually deprecate certain parts of its API that third-party apps rely on.

Fast forward one year to April 2018, roughly 10 weeks before the scheduled API transition of mid-June. Twitter’s new API still hadn’t been made available to third-party developers. The Iconfactory, Tapbots, and other makers of Twitter clients created a website called Apps of a Feather…Stick Together to explain how the looming changes would affect customers. The ensuing uproar among users caused Twitter to delay the API transition until tomorrow, August 16, 2018. Although Twitter has not flipped the switch on the changes yet, apps like Twitterrific and Tweetbot have already taken steps to deal with the changes.

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Twitter Announces New End-of-Life Date for APIs and Pricing That Affects Third-Party Apps

In April, Twitter delayed a transition to a new API that was expected to have a significant impact on third-party Twitter clients like Twitterrific and Tweetbot. The delay came in the wake of an outcry from users of third-party Twitter clients prompted by developers who banded together to encourage users to complain to Twitter about the API changes that were set to take effect on June 19, 2018. Today, Twitter announced that those changes would go forward on August 16, 2018 – about two months later than originally planned.

Yesterday, in an interview with Sarah Perez of TechCruch, Paul Haddad of Tapbots, the maker Tweetbot, said:

“Twitter has a replacement API that – if we’re given access to – we’ll be able to use to replace almost all of the functionality that they are deprecating,” he explains. “On Mac, the worst case scenario is that we won’t be able to show notifications for Likes and Retweets. Notifications for Tweets, Mentions, Quotes, DMs and Follows will be delayed one to two minutes,” Haddad adds.

He also says that Tweets wouldn’t stream in as they get posted, but instead would come in one to two minutes later as the app would automatically poll for them. (This is the same as how the iOS app works now when connected to LTE – it uses the polling API.)

In addition to announcing transition date, Twitter announced pricing for its new API, and it’s expensive. A subscription covering 100-250 users will cost $2899/month, which works out to over $11 per user for 250 users. Anyone with over 250 users, which would include all the major third-party Twitter clients, is advised to contact Twitter for enterprise pricing. However, the pricing on the API’s lower tiers doesn’t leave much room for optimism.

Third-party clients that can’t or don’t want to pay those prices will have to make do without timeline streaming and push notifications for likes and retweets. Other notifications will be delayed approximately 1-2 minutes according to statements by Haddad to TechCrunch.

For its part, Twitter has made it clear, that the functionality of the old APIs will not be coming to the new APIs:

“As a few developers have noticed, there’s no streaming connection capability or home timeline data, which are only used by a small amount of developers (roughly 1% of monthly active apps),” writes Twitter Senior Product Manager, Kyle Weiss, in a blog post. “As we retire aging APIs, we have no plans to add these capabilities to Account Activity API or create a new streaming service for related use cases.”

We contacted The Iconfactory, the maker of Twitterrific, and Tapbots,1 the maker of Tweetbot, to ask about the impact of the API changes on third-party clients and Twitter users. According to Iconfactory developer Craig Hockenberry:

A lot of functionality that users of third-party apps took for granted is going away. That was the motivation for the apps-of-a-feather.com website - to soften the blow of this announcement.

Hockenberry elaborated that The Iconfactory has reached out to Twitter regarding enterprise pricing for the new APIs, but says that he doesn’t anticipate the pricing will be affordable absent a significant discount.

On the one hand, this latest blow to third-party Twitter clients may be something that some users, including me, are willing to tolerate. On the other hand, this is yet another example of third-party client hostility demonstrated by Twitter stretching back at least five years that doesn’t bode well for the long-term viability of those apps. I asked Hockenberry what he thinks the changes mean to third-party Twitter apps. His response:

Long term, I don’t think there will be any apps other than the official one. I also don’t think Twitter realizes that many long-time users, who are highly engaged on the service, are also the people who use third-party apps. These folks will look elsewhere for their social media needs.

Given Twitter’s repeated hostility towards third-party clients, that’s a hard sentiment to argue against and one that gets my attention more than Twitter’s announcement. I can live with the latest changes to Twitter’s API, but if third-party developers conclude that their time and resources are better spent elsewhere, I expect the end of the Twitter I know and use today is closer than I thought.


  1. As of publication of this post, Tapbots has not responded to our inquiry. ↩︎

Twitter Delays Transition to New API That Threatens Third-Party Clients

Last April, Twitter announced that it would deprecate parts of its API that third-party Twitter clients rely on for their apps. Originally, Twitter planned to replace the functionality with a new Account Activity API on June 19, 2018. The trouble is, Twitter hasn’t provided third-party developers with access to the new API, which jeopardizes core functionality of those apps.

With the API transition looming, the makers of Twitterrific, Tweetbot, Talon, and Tweetings created a website to alert their users about the impact the changes to third-party Twitter clients:

After June 19th, 2018, “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. This means two things for third-party apps:

  1. Push notifications will no longer arrive
  2. Timelines won’t refresh automatically

If you use an app like Talon, Tweetbot, Tweetings, or Twitterrific, there is no way for its developer to fix these issues.

We are incredibly eager to update our apps. However, despite many requests for clarification and guidance, Twitter has not provided a way for us to recreate the lost functionality. We’ve been waiting for more than a year.

The site encourages users to express their feelings about the situation to Twitter’s developer account with the hashtag #BreakingMyTwitter.

The response from unhappy Twitter users was swift. By the end of the day, Twitter announced that it would delay the API transition to an unspecified date in the future and provide at least 90 days notice to third parties before shutting down the old APIs.

Although it is good news that Twitter’s transition to the Accounts API has been put off, it doesn’t solve the issues that it raises for third-party developers.

Tension between Twitter and third-party developers isn’t new. Still, when Jack Dorsey returned to Twitter as CEO in 2015, he said he wanted to repair relationships with developers. It’s impossible to know if this latest episode represents a strategic shift for Twitter or mere indifference toward third-party developers. Either way, it’s a shame to see third-party Twitter clients, which pioneered many features that users love, under threat yet again.


Twitter Rolls Out Full-Archive Search API

Twitter has added support for full-archive search to their API, allowing – in theory – third-party clients to retrieve every tweet ever posted on the service. From their blog:

The Full-Archive Search API combines the best aspects of two of Gnip’s most popular offerings to solve enterprise business needs with user experiences not previously possible. By pairing instant accessibility with the full archive of historical Tweets, we’ve created a new premium solution for our ecosystem of partners to deliver historical social data to their own clients.

Since Twitter added full-archive search to their app last year, I’ve been using the feature every day to find old stuff I or others tweeted in the past. There’s no word on pricing for Gnip customers, but hopefully apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific will be able to take advantage of it. Developer documentation is available here.

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An API To Keep Track Of User Position in Twitter Timeline

An API To Keep Track Of User Position in Twitter Timeline

I use Hibari on my desktop, Twitter on my iPhone, and rotate between Twitter and Twitterrific on my iPad. And the experience of Twitter client hopping sucks. That’s because when I switch from one to the other, no client has any idea where I left off in the other. I either skip chunks of tweets against my will, or need to scroll through oodles of tweets I’ve already read.

There’s a better way. And it shouldn’t be on the customer’s side to deal with. This is a problem Twitter developers can and should solve.

I’m proposing — and hosting — an API through which different Twitter clients could painlessly keep track of where users are in their timelines.

Developers: please start supporting this.

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Reddit Quotes Extraordinarily High API Pricing to Apollo Developer

I’ve never used Reddit without a third-party app. For a while, that was Narwhal, and most recently, Apollo. Sure, I read Reddit in Safari once in a while when a Google search leads me there, but I’ve never used Reddit’s first-party app because it’s never been as good as third-party alternatives.

In April, Reddit announced that it would start charging users for API access. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a lot like what played out with Twitter’s API and third-party apps. And just like Twitter, Reddit is charging a price for its API that’s so steep, it’s hard to imagine any third-party apps will be able to pay it.

Christian Selig, the creator of the immensely popular Reddit client Apollo, on the pricing he was quoted:

I’ll cut to the chase: 50 million requests costs $12,000, a figure far more than I ever could have imagined.

Apollo made 7 billion requests last month, which would put it at about 1.7 million dollars per month, or 20 million US dollars per year. Even if I only kept subscription users, the average Apollo user uses 344 requests per day, which would cost $2.50 per month, which is over double what the subscription currently costs, so I’d be in the red every month.

I hope Reddit reconsiders its pricing, but I’m afraid we may be seeing the end of the era when platforms used free or cheap APIs to accelerate their growth. Reddit may be within its rights to charge so much, but that doesn’t make it any less a slap in the face to app developers like Selig, whose app has helped grow Reddit’s business. Between this and Twitter, it’s hard to imagine new services attracting third-party support as a way to grow their businesses ever again.

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A Final Update to Tweetbot and Twitterrific That Allows Users to Support Tapbots and The Iconfactory

Usually, when a big company shuts down an API, they give customers time to prepare. It’s the right thing to do regardless of what any terms of service say. That’s not how things went down with Twitter. Instead, as I wrote in January, Twitter eliminated access to its API for many third-party apps, including Tweetbot by Tapbots and Twitterrific by The Iconfactory, with no notice at all and then made up an excuse for why they did so after the fact. One moment the apps worked; the next, they didn’t.

The ramifications of Twitter’s actions are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on the App Store. Tweetbot and Twitterrific were both subscription-based apps. Because they had no notice, neither company had a chance to suspend new subscriptions or take other actions to deal with a change that, under the best of circumstances, would pose massive challenges to their development teams. As a result, both Tapbots and The Iconfactory are faced with refunding the 70-85% of subscription revenues that they received on a pro-rated basis. That’s how the App Store works, and it’s potentially devastating to both companies given how events played out.

To try to mitigate the damage, both Tweetbot and Twitterrific were updated this week with new interfaces. Now, both apps give subscribers the option to indicate that they don’t want a refund. Tweetbot also offers to transfer a user’s Tweetbot subscription to Tapbots’ new Mastodon app, Ivory, which Federico recently reviewed and is excellent. If users do nothing, they’ll receive a refund that will be credited to their App Store account automatically by Apple.


Tapbots and The Iconfactory have played an important part in the Apple developer community for a very long time, and their Twitter clients were two of the best ever created. It’s been hard for us at MacStories to watch as the makers of two of our favorite apps have been treated with such callous disregard by Twitter, which owes no small portion of its past success to both apps.

If you were a subscriber to either or both apps, you’re absolutely entitled to a refund, but we’d ask that you open the app you use and tap the button to decline a refund as a final act of support for their developers instead.

The App Store’s success is built on many things, but its cornerstone is the developers who care enough to make apps like Tweetbot and Twitterrific. Many of us have moved on from Twitter, but let’s not leave behind the developers who made it a place where we once enjoyed hanging out.

If you’ve already deleted either app from your devices, both Tweetbot and Twitterrific can still be downloaded from the App Store.