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

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

The era of big third-party Twitter clients may be over. After Twitter cut off its API access and changed its rules to ban apps that compete with its own, The Iconfactory has announced that it will suspend Twitterific, Fenix ​​has has been removed from app stores, and Tapbots have posted a memorial for Tweetbot. It’s a loss for everyone who used the apps, and almost certainly a loss for Twitter itself.

As many people have pointed out over the last week, third-party clients helped make Twitter the platform it is today, innovating parts of Twitter we take for granted and, in the early days, helping to shape the very identity of the company. They have also acted as a safe haven from unwanted changes, helping people keep tweeting when they were ready to leave the platform.

Screenshot of Twitterific's bird logo from 2007.

Take, for example, that word I just used: tweet. The idea that a “tweet” would be what we call a Twitter post didn’t actually come from the company itself, according to a blog post by Twitterific developer Craig Hockenberry. Instead, it was suggested by Blaine Cook, a QA tester for The Iconfactory’s third-party client, and was immediately adopted. It wasn’t until at least a year later that Twitter, the company, also started using the phrase. (Originally, Twitter preferred “tweeting”.) Twitterific also led the way in the use of a bird logo.

Third-party apps have had a massive impact on the way we use smartphone apps in general, not just Twitter. A client named Tweetie is widely credited for inventing the pull-to-update interaction that has become nearly ubiquitous on iOS and Android to update. all feed Even if you haven’t heard of Tweetie before, you may have used it; in 2010, Twitter acquired it and made it the official iPhone client. In 2015, the company also hired a developer from another third-party client to improve its Android app.

Screenshot of Tweetie 2 compared to Twitter for iPhone.

It’s also not the only time Twitter has acquired a popular third-party client entirely. TweetDeck, a part of the edgeThe wording to this day, it was a standalone app for years until the company bought it out.

Users of third-party clients, numbering in the millions in 2018, often enjoyed features years before reaching the official app. Echofon added the ability to mute unwanted users and hashtags in 2011, a feature of the official releases. I didn’t arrive until 2014.

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 have also acted as a safe haven from Twitter’s changes; they didn’t have the flood of recommended and out-of-order tweets that the official app did, and they gave us options to use a Twitter app for Mac after the official app was discontinued for a year. And, yes, people have used third-party clients to get an ad-free Twitter experience, not because they removed the ads on purpose, but because Twitter didn’t serve them through the API. (Side note: It’s hard to believe that Twitter couldn’t have made the alternative apps serve ads if it wanted to or had to.)

At times, Twitter has apparently recognized the added value of third-party developers. “Third-party customers have had a notable impact on the Twitter service and the products we create,” she reads. a 2018 note from Rob Johnson, who was the company’s development platform lead at the time. “Independent developers created the first Twitter client for Mac and the first native app for iPhone. These customers pioneered product features we all know and love.” And in a 2010 blog postTwitter said that people using third-party clients were “some of the most active and frequent users, noting that” a disproportionate amount of Twitter traffic goes through those tools.

Despite the praise, the relationship between Twitter and third-party developers was often strained. The company’s developer agreement has had an on-and-off rule that prohibited 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 have them. .

However, before Musk took over, the company appeared to be making amends. He clarified his rules with the express intention of making things easier for third-party customers, began to communicate more, and his API v2 eventually gave developers access to features like polls and group direct messages. In late 2021, Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad told me, “the pace of development and openness has improved significantly compared to some of the darker days.” And in 2022, he called the company releasing a v2 version of its startup timeline API “an indication that they will continue to allow and even encourage alternative clients.”

It’s not just third-party clients that have improved the Twitter experience. There are several 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 images to the site before that feature was introduced.) Most of those apps seem to still 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 a massive backlash from users and make the service worse. But based on Twitter’s recent actions, that wouldn’t rule it out.

I’m not trying to argue that Twitter has never built features on its own, or collected user feedback on its own, because it has. (The retweet, hashtag, and @ mention were all invented by users, sometimes with the help of third-party apps, but Twitter implemented them effectively.) My point is that an ecosystem of competing third-party apps and the official client is going to produce more good ideas than any single company could produce on its own.

Elon Musk just decided to throw all that away. Twitter broke abruptly from that flow of ideas, the flow that produced its apps, some of its most popular features, and much of its core identity. Even if it does go backwards, why would developers spend their best ideas on a company that has burned them so bad?

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