The biggest takeaway from Twitter's new API announcement is they're trying to phase out third-party clients eventually, but for now they're just setting a glass ceiling to stop them from growing.
On Thursday evening, Twitter unveiled the guidelines for the new API they're calling V1.1. Most of the additions are under-the-hood changes that only developers will care about, but buried at the bottom is the way Twitter's really changing the way we, the users, consume our Tweets. They're imposing a cap on the number of users a third-party app can have. If an app wants more than 100,000 user tokens -- or, more than 100,000 people using their product -- then they have to ask for special permission. Per Twitter's company blog:
Additionally, if you are building a Twitter client application that is accessing the home timeline, account settings or direct messages API endpoints (typically used by traditional client applications) or are using our User Streams product, you will need our permission if your application will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens.
We will not be shutting down client applications that use those endpoints and are currently over those token limits. If your application already has more than 100,000 individual user tokens, you'll be able to maintain and add new users to your application until you reach 200% of your current user token count (as of today) — as long as you comply with our Rules of the Road. Once you reach 200% of your current user token count, you'll be able to maintain your application to serve your users, but you will not be able to add additional users without our permission.
Any third-party apps currently operating have to tally their user base and double it: that's the new ceiling. Anything beyond that and you're begging at the feet of the king.
So that leaves us with one question: why? If you listen to The New York Times' Nick Bilton, it's all about the money. Twitter's currently running more than 1 million apps on their API, and "managing and delivering Twitter messages to all of those clients likely costs Twitter millions of dollars in computing costs." Plus, there's the additional cost of the engineers required to keep up with that demand.
There was also a new dress code for third-party apps, making Buzzfeed's Matt Buchanan think it's all a step towards Twitter's growing out of its adolescence into a real, big kid company, like Facebook:
It's maybe a somewhat annoying parallel to repeat, ad infinitum, but this Twitter is a lot more like Facebook than the original Twitter, the "Twitter that could have been." It's Twitter, the media company. Twitter, the company that sells ads. The Twitter needs a "consistent experience" for that to happen. So everything looks and feels the way Twitter wants it to, that displays what Twitter wants it to. Apps build into Twitter, but they don't pull Twitter outward. Like, you know, Facebook.
You don't use a third-party app with Facebook, do you? Gizmodo's Marlo Aguilar has a rundown of current apps that are probably screwed by the new changes. Sorry, Tweetbot, UberSocial, Twitterrific users. (Storify is apparently fine, answering the violent threats of Reuters' Anthony De Rosa.) As Buchanan says, this is Twitter "holding a pillow over Twitter apps as you know them, smothering," them slowly. Gizmodo's Casey Chan compared the move to Twitter "giving all third-party Twitter apps one last giant crate of food today but letting them determine how to ration out the pieces before they all die tomorrow." This is Twitter cracking a pool cue in two like the Joker and saying "we've only got so much room on the team," and letting the apps sort it themselves. You didn't think we'd skip making our own violent death metaphor, did you?