Twitter clamps down on developers with restrictive API rules

The next version of Twitter's API aims to limit traditional Twitter clients and syndication

Changes to Twitter's upcoming API release are aimed at restricting consumer-focused client applications in favor of business-oriented ones, according to the company's blog on Thursday.

Version 1.1 of Twitter's API (application programming interface) is scheduled for release in "the coming weeks," wrote Michael Sippey, a Twitter group product manager. Developers will have six months to migrate their applications to the new API, he wrote.

The technical changes are intended to grow applications centered around social CRM (customer relationship management), media integration, social analytics and social influence ranking.

"Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience," Sippey wrote, citing applications such as Tweetbot, Echofon, Storify and Favstar.fm.

Among the significant changes are limits on how many user tokens Twitter grants to applications, which allow those applications to pull data. Twitter will allow applications to double their token count. After that, developers will not be able to add additional users without Twitter's permission.

Developers building new applications that want access to information such as home timelines and account settings and expect to need more than 100,000 tokens will have to ask for Twitter's approval as well. For even large user bases, such as more than one million tokens, Sippey wrote "we will require you to work with us directly."

"One of the key things we've learned over the past few years is that when developers begin to demand an increasingly high volume of API calls, we can guide them toward areas of value for users and their businesses," Sippey wrote.

Twitter, which has said it wants to create more consistent user experiences, will also impose new "Display Requirements." Those will include scaling Tweets appropriately based on the device on which the application is used, displaying Tweet actions such as reply, retweet and favorite and linking @usernames to the appropriate profile.

The announcement has already caused some anxiety for those who have integrated Twitter into their applications.

"Twitter has left themselves a lot of wiggle-room with the rules," wrote Marco Arment of Instapaper, an application that saves web pages for reading at another time, on his blog. "Effectively, Twitter can decide your app is breaking a (potentially vague) rule at any time, or they can add a new rule that your app inadvertently breaks and revoke your API access at any time."

"Of course, they've always had this power," Arment wrote. "But now we know that they'll use it in ways that we really don't agree with."

Sippey wrote that Twitter wants to encourage business applications, citing Crimson Hexagon, which builds Twitter reports for branding purposes; Topsy, an analytics platform for analyzing news; and DataMinr, which provides Twitter analytics for the finance industry.

"We've seen tremendous innovation in applications and services that serve the business market with analytics products based on Twitter content," Sippey wrote.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

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