Last week Twitter announced a number of changes/clarifications in their API rules. Essentially it comes down to two pretty clear rules. One, don’t make new Twitter clients. Two, if you’re going to display Tweets, make sure it looks like Twitter. Something bothered me about this and I couldn’t quite place it at first. Well, a week later, I have an idea what it was.
Twitter is protecting their branding above all else and it is NOT their most valuable asset. I believe what Twitter has is a flow of information that describes anything (and everything) that is happening in the world at any given time. I have explored in this space how I use Twitter for real time content. It’s this realtime information stream and the ability to discuss it publicly (@replies) that makes Twitter indispensable, not it’s look and feel.
It’s with the preservation of that information stream in mind that Twitter’s new API rules make me nervous. Not allowing gifted developers and designers to come up with new Twitter clients limits innovation. For example, I personally prefer the way that Tweetdeck can expose not just my primary Twitter feed, but all of my lists on a single pain of glass. If TweetDeck were to start tomorrow, they would have a lot of trouble with the Twitter API rules and without their client I may never would have started using Twitter.
The second rule is even more troubling. As someone who’s done some work creating Twitter applications, it seems horribly constraining to require me to use Twitter’s style of display. For different applications there are better ways to show the tweets in your stream. For example, in a marketing application it may be appropriate to remove some of them and augment others with statistics or suggestions. If this is a violation of the developer rules than Twitter is limiting the usefulness of its own most valuable resource.
I don’t think these new rules will sink Twitter, in fact it may help the company receive more universal adoption (most people like a single look and feel). The rules do disappoint me though, because it hurts the part of Twitter that I find most valuable.