Twitter’s long, twisted history with developers just took another strange turn. The company has changed its API platform, which now goes so far as to allow bots via Direct Messages. There’s also a new web-based version called ‘Twitter Lite,” aimed at emerging markets.
First, Twitter Lite. Living in a web browser, Lite is fairly straightforward: in addition to being a web app, it gives users the option to blur images and other media in order to save bandwidth. Users can still tap on media to see or play it, but it devotes the stream mainly to text and links. Twitter claims up to 70 percent less data usage with Lite, which may encourage Twitter usage in areas that don’t have the bandwidth to support the full experience.
Twitter Lite is a faster, data friendly way for people to use Twitter to see what’s happening in the world.
— Twitter (@Twitter) April 6, 2017
Twitter’s new API changes are more involved. Twitter now has different tiers of API for developers, which range from ‘experimentation’ to a full-fledged experience designed for enterprise partners. The company says its goal is to “create an integrated Twitter API platform that serves everyone.”
There will also be three unique use-cases for the tiered API, Twitter suggested: “This means one API for filtering data from the Firehose; one API for searching the Twitter archive; one API for getting realtime activities related to an account — including Tweets, Direct Messages, Likes & Follows.”
The new program might be easy to grasp up-front, but behind the curtain, we see some potential issues. Twitter will supposedly “streamline APIs, so developers will no longer have to contend with different access and delivery protocols as they scale.” However, the firm added: “All of these APIs will provide tiers of access.” Some API tiers will be paid, though the company isn’t saying what it will charge for, or how much, beyond noting that the ‘experimentation’ tier of its APIs will be free.
This unified platform leans heavily on Gnip, the company’s data curation tool. That API allows developers to get granular info from the “firehose” that is the timeline. Meant for enterprise solutions, Gnip is apparently being streamlined for use with its existing REST and streaming APIs, providing a data-centric backbone for building new experiences.
Twitter is also bringing new services forward. A data product taps into Gnip in a big way, providing real-time access to user-generated data. Previously out of reach to most developers, this makes enterprise-level data gathering available to everyone.
Twitter clearly wants businesses to double down on engagement via its platform. A glaring example is one Facebook tackled last year at F8: bots. Developers can now build bots for Direct Messages, which is meant to keep users engaged with boilerplate issues such as delayed shipments or finding tickets for a flight:
— TwitterDev (@TwitterDev) April 6, 2017
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=“utf-8″>
This seems iterative of news announced in November 2016, when Twitter encouraged developers to build lightweight bot services for businesses. At the time, welcome messages and quick replies were the threshold; now, a full-fledged bot can be written for DMs. This ability is limited to partners for now, though Twitter seems serious about making its service into something that businesses rely on for engaging customers.
Developers can also see exactly what Twitter has planned for its API platform. Much like Slack, a Trello board now exists for the API program, which highlights what’s in the works as well as ideas that Twitter is entertaining.
What is Twitter Doing?
There are two ways of looking at today’s news: Twitter is either pinching developers for more money, or making it easier to utilize the platform for just about anyone.
Both are true. While having three separate pathways for its API platform is simpler, we don’t know how limited or powerful each tier will be. It sounds like the highest-end API will get you a whole lot of Gnip, which is great. It also appears as though the lowest rung on the ladder (meant for experimentation) might be little more than Twitter Lite, and we don’t know if it will let you actually use the API in production or if you’d need to upgrade and pay.
Twitter monetizing its API platform is equally interesting. Save for that ‘experimentation’ tier, everything else appears subject to payment. That it’s announcing this news before announcing how much it plans to charge tells us the final cost might be steep.
Similarly, charging for API access might be a means to stay independent. Before it sold Fabric to Google, Twitter was rumored to be up for grabs by Google, Disney and various other suitors. None of that panned out, and such acquisition talk has since died down.
Changing the API program – and monetizing it – also represents an investment in the platform for all involved. With stagnated user growth and a competitive landscape, we can’t say whether that’s a smart investment on anyone’s part just yet. Twitter’s troubled past with developers might also make its new initiatives a hard sell.