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

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

The age of great third-party Twitter clients may be over. After Twitter cut off its API access and changed its rules to bar apps that compete with its own, The Iconfactory announced it’s retiring Twitterific, Fenix ​​is pulled from app stores, and Tapbots has posted a memorial for Tweetbot. It’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 parts of Twitter that we take for granted and, in the early days, helping the identity of create a company. They also acted as a safe haven from unwanted changes, helping to keep people tweeting when they were ready to give up on the platform.

A screenshot of the Twitterific bird logo from 2007.

Take, for example, that word I just used – tweeting. The idea that a “tweet” is what we call a Twitter post didn’t come from the company itself, according to a blog post by Twitterific developer Craig Hockenberry. Instead, Blaine Cook, a QA tester for third-party client The Iconfactory, suggested it and it was immediately accepted. It wasn’t until at least a year later that the company on Twitter started using the phrase as well. (At first, Twitter preferred “twittering.”) Twitterific also pioneered the use of a bird logo.

Third-party apps have had a huge impact on how we use smartphone apps in general, not just Twitter. A client named Tweetie is widely credited with inventing the near-ubiquitous drag-to-refresh interaction across iOS and Android for refreshing all sorts of feeds. Even if you’ve never heard of Tweetie before, chances are you’ve used it; in 2010, Twitter acquired it and made it the official iPhone client. In 2015, the company hired another third-party client developer to improve its Android app.

A screenshot of Tweetie 2 compared to Twitter for iPhone.

This is also not the only time that Twitter has completely acquired a popular third-party client. TweetDeck, some of it The Corruntil today, it was a standalone app for years until the company bought it.

Third-party client users, who numbered in the millions in 2018, often enjoyed features years before they came to the official app. Echofon added the ability to mute unwanted users and hashtags in 2011, a feature in the official versions it didn’t get until 2014.

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

a:hover]:text-gray-63 text-gray-63 dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray”>Screenshot: Echofon via The Wayback Machine

The apps also served as safe havens from Twitter’s changes; the large number of recommended and out-of-order tweets made by the official app, and they gave us options to use the Twitter app for Mac after the official one was discontinued for a year. And, yes, people used third-party clients to get an ad-free Twitter experience, not because they got rid of ads but because Twitter didn’t serve them through the API. (Side note: it’s hard to believe Twitter couldn’t make other apps serve ads if it wanted to or needed to.)

At times, Twitter seems to have recognized the added value of outside developers. “Third-party clients have had a significant impact on the Twitter service and the products we’ve built,” it read memo 2018 from Rob Johnson, who was in charge of the company’s developer platform at the time. “Independent developers built the first Twitter client for Mac and the first native app for the iPhone. These clients pioneered product features that we all know and love.” And i 2010 blog postTwitter said that people who used third-party clients “were some of the most active and frequent users, noting that a “disproportionate amount of traffic from Twitter goes through such tools.”

Despite the praise, the relationship between Twitter and external developers was often fraught. The company’s developer agreement had an off-and-on rule banning alternative apps that competed with its official clients, and for years the company introduced new features it didn’t support in its API, meaning third-party clients couldn’t to be a party. at them.

Before Musk took over, however, the company appeared to be on the verge of a merger. It clarified its rules with the express intention of making things easier for third-party clients, started to communicate more, and its API v2 finally gave developers access to features like polls and group DM. In late 2021, Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad told me, “the pace of development and openness has greatly improved compared to some of the dark days.” And in 2022, he asked the company to release a v2 version of its home API timeline “to show that they are going to continue to allow and even encourage other clients.”

It’s not just third-party clients that have made the Twitter experience better. There are some 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 that feature was built in.) Most of those apps still seem to work, but as we’ve seen, that could change at any time, and Twitter has the ability to prevent you from posting links to them.

Of course, doing so would likely result in massive user backlash and make the service worse. But based on Twitter’s recent actions, that wouldn’t be out of the question.

I’m not trying to argue that Twitter has never come up with features on its own, or picked user suggestions on its own, because it has. (The retweet, hashtag, and @ quote were famously invented by users, sometimes with the help of third-party apps, but Twitter implemented them effectively.) My point is that there is an ecosystem of third-party apps competing with each other and the t – officer. the client will produce more good ideas than one company could alone.

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

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