With an official announcement on the Twitter Google Group, head of platform and API at Twitter Ryan Sarver has told developers to stop building third-party Twitter clients that "mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience". Basically: no more unofficial Twitter apps that look just like the official iOS, Mac, Android or BlackBerry apps and don't add any value to the experience. Instead, focus on different areas of the whole Twitter experience. Uh oh.
The move is quickly causing a reaction among developers on Twitter that didn't expect such a response from the company. Basically, although in a subtle way, they're telling everyone to stop wasting time trying to emulate the official Twitter apps because 90% of users are already using Twitter through the officially provided tools. On top of that, though, it's not only a matter of choice: it seems like Twitter is really going to force developers to stop building apps by "holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service". Some key parts from the announcement:
With more people joining Twitter and accessing the service in multiple ways, a consistent user experience is more crucial than ever. As we talked about last April, this was our motivation for buying Tweetie and developing our own official iPhone app. It is the reason why we have developed official apps for the Mac, iPad, Android and Windows Phone, and worked with RIM on their Twitter for Blackberry app. As a result, the top five ways that people access Twitter are official Twitter apps.
Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.
As we point out above, we need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way.
This announcement from Twitter is very surprising in my opinion, mostly because Twitter's expansion and success happened thanks to third party clients for the desktop, iOS and Android that brought the Twitter platform years ago where it wasn't available. Today Twitter has its own apps, but years ago it was only the API. And now they're kindly telling everyone to stop building new "regular" clients because there's no reason to do so. Whether or not they'll go after every single new client that comes out and "reproduces the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience" is unclear at this point. Will they run quality control for every single new app they find and block its API access? Or is this just an announcement to instill fear and discourage developers? We don't know yet, but devs surely aren't appreciating the news. And we understand them.
Of course, Twitter has confirmed the existing apps can keep serving their users as long as they maintain "high standards". But for new developers, the focus should be put into data, social publishing tools, curation. What happens when Twitter expands to those areas, though? We don't know.
As long as the Mac and iOS are concerned, we are surrounded be great third-party apps like Twitterrific, Echofon, Hibari -- and dozens of new Twitter clients come out every week, both for iPhones and iPads and Macs. Perhaps some of them aren't great, many of them are actually terrible, but to each his own, they say. From now, at least from Twitter's point of view, it's all going to be about quality control, rather than choice.
Update: as many readers suggested on Twitter, here are some third-party clients you should try:
- Destroy Twitter