Effects of Twitter’s API and policy changes will be gradual but profound

If Twitter continues on its stated path, it will be a completely different animal in 18 months, and prospectively. These plans include cutting off the current API 1.0 March 2013, new “Display Requirements,” sunsetting @Anywhere, and other API usage and policy changes.

Of all these, the draconian “Display Requirements” if fully enforced by Twitter along with some of the other policy restrictions are perhaps of much bigger significance than the new API 1.1 technical changes that are coming in March and getting all the media attention.

Earlier this month, TechCrunch wrote such an incredibly stupid article on this subject that I refuse to link to it, that included the following amazing insight:  “we’ve heard no horror stories about apps being bullied, shut down or otherwise cut off.” Well, imagine that. On the first day of the new policy, TechCrunch “didn’t hear about” any issues. Good for them. Must be a Chicken Little “sky is falling” issue then.

First, the D-Day for the “Display Requirements” was not an apocalypse moment in the way the oAuth-pocalypse was. In the case of the “Display Requirements” D-Day, Twitter didn’t technically break existing code all at once like they did when they switched off Basic Authentication.

Second, this is a “loaded gun” for Twitter, a gun pointed at competitors’ heads. They don’t even need to enforce this policy to have it be effective in killing apps. Developers will exercise “voluntary deportation.” It has already happened. Including the popular web app Twimbow. Other victims include News.me, Zinq as well as LinkedIn and Instagram. And there are probably countless other developers that have already begun their winding down plans or have already shutdown that haven’t made it into the tech. news.

The effects of these changes will be gradual. There will be more and more companies and apps vacating (or severely limiting) support for Twitter. If they don’t do it themselves, the investment community will do it for them because, once this all sinks in fully, the money for anything relying on Twitter integration, what little there is of it to begin with, will completely dry up. There won’t be a big apocalypse type event in this case. Instead it will be a gradual and continued disintegration of the Twitter third-party app ecosystem, and as a result, a different kind of Twitter will emerge from that destruction. Nobody is going to slap TechCrunch in the face so they won’t even notice it happening.

Before worrying about spending energy to port your app from the current API 1.0 to the new API 1.1, you first better take a look to see if your app is affected by the new “Display Requirements” or other new rules. If it can’t meet the new restrictions, why care about the technical details of new API? You’re screwed anyway, why spend the energy porting to the new API? That’s certainly how I saw it with Zinq.

Twitter is becoming a closed box, a write-only system, where apps and partners can put stuff into Twitter, but they cannot take anything out. I don’t know what this means for Twitter’s business in the long run, but I know when the dust settles it will be completely different than the Twitter we know today and have known to date. For one thing, Twitter becomes a lot more static. It won’t be a place where some new surprising thing will jump out from the community or third party apps, as has happened so many times before (retweet, replies, location, search, etc.) I guess that’s partially what Twitter wants, a more “consistent” experience, one where all innovations must come from Twitter themselves.

I know as a user, it makes the whole thing less interesting. I’m annoyed about having to revert to Twitter’s own web page or iPad and iPhone clients which suck compared to the third-party clients I use. That makes Twitter a less fun place for me. As a developer, I already greatly reduced my Twitter-focused efforts after the 2010 Chirp conference, but now even that will reduce to a trickle.