Are Twitter shooting themselves in the foot or just being business savvy?
It’s inevitable that as something grows, the need for regulation becomes greater. Up until recently, Twitter has been relatively relaxed in its approach to regulation and the restrictions it imposes on users and developers. However, the tide is starting to change and Twitter, like many before it, are starting to put more stringent guidelines in place.
One of the biggest changes within Twitter at the moment is the update to its application programming interface (API), which will see more rules in place for developers making third-party Twitter clients and services. The microblogging platform’s Display Guidelines (or Display Requirements as they will soon be known) will be stricter when the API moves from v1.0 to v1.1, but what is actually going to change for developers?
Some of the current guidelines for Twitter client developers include linking @usernames to profiles, having options to retweet, favourite and reply, and other various display options. These will need to be followed exactly (hence the change from guidelines to requirements) and developers will need to get their applications certified by Twitter prior to it being released. Those not adhering to the rules will have their API application key revoked.
That seems all very logical and reasonable; as Twitter themselves put it, this will go towards “providing the best Twitter experience possible”.
However, they are also enforcing guidelines and restrictions depending on the size of a client’s user base. For clients who need over 100,000 user tokens to make API calls (200,000 for those who already have more than that), they will need to ask permission from Twitter before they are allowed to add any more users, although they will still be allowed to maintain their application.
Furthermore, for even larger applications that require over a million user tokens, the developers of that app must work directly with Twitter. This will affect popular sites such as Tweetbot, Echofon and Storify.
Twitter will likely claim that this is simply to improve the standard of third-party client, but there is also a much bigger factor at play – money.
It’s not easy to make money from social networking. The long and short of it is that users, especially those who have enjoyed years of free service, don’t expect to have to pay to use it. Therefore, sites are going to want to try and prevent other people and companies from making money off their services (through things like adverts within the apps), and Twitter is doing this by upping the regulation of third-party clients and services.
It’s unlikely Twitter would be able to completely ban the use of third-party clients (although as it is their IP, they may have a case), but by putting such restrictions in place, they are ensuring they have much more control over them. Interestingly, Twitter also no longer displays the source app or client from where a user has tweeted, again moving towards a more centralised service.
In a very simple example, the more people they can get using their own Twitter client, the more people will click on their adverts and the more money they make. That’s rather basic, but an example of Twitter’s possible endgame. This could well marginalise users and developers, especially as many find third-party clients far more favourable to Twitter’s own. If the official client doesn’t provide the same user experience, then it could put people off using the service altogether. More can be found about the changes here.
Adverts themselves are also getting a bit of an overhaul. Sponsored tweets and trends are becoming more and more commonplace, and Twitter are now looking to focus on more targeted adverts.
Targeted advertising is nothing new so it makes sense for Twitter to get in on the game. Marketers will now be able to choose from 350 areas of interest to help them target the more relevant users. On their blog, Twitter gives the example of an indie band trying to advertise their next tour. They say that marketers can add @usernames of related bands so can target users who are fans of similar music.
This makes sense for advertisers as they will want to appeal to people who are more likely to be interested in their services. However, social media users don’t like adverts, targeted or not. Sure, they may get used to them in time, but they would rather they weren’t there. It takes away from the feeling of having your own page and own feed if there are adverts dotted around the place.
There are two sides to every coin – is Twitter taking the initiative away from users, developers and the like, stifling creativity, and forcing the experience to be in line with what the company wants, or are they just protecting their assets and trying to produce a more workable business model?