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

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

The age of nice third-party Twitter shoppers could also be over. After Twitter reduce off their API entry and adjusted its guidelines to bar apps that compete with its personal, The Iconfactory has introduced that it’s discontinuing Twitterific, Fenix has been pulled from app stores, and Tapbots has posted a memorial for Tweetbot. It’s a loss for all the individuals who used the apps and, nearly actually, a loss for Twitter itself.

As many individuals have identified over the previous week, third-party shoppers helped make Twitter the platform it is today, innovating elements of Twitter we take without any consideration and, in the early days, serving to type the firm’s very id. They’ve additionally acted as a secure haven from undesirable modifications, serving to to maintain folks tweeting once they had been prepared to surrender on the platform.

Screenshot of the Twitterific bird logo from 2007.
Twitter didn’t put a hen in its emblem until 2010. Here’s a screenshot from Twitterific’s site in 2007, with the hen explaining methods to set up the Mac app. The iPhone’s App Store wouldn’t come alongside till over a 12 months later.
Image: The Iconfactory

Take, for instance, that phrase I just used — tweeting. The thought {that a} “tweet” could be what we name a Twitter publish didn’t truly come from the firm itself, based on a blog post from Twitterific developer Craig Hockenberry. Instead, it was steered by Blaine Cook, a QA tester for The Iconfactory’s third-party consumer, and instantly adopted. It wasn’t till not less than a 12 months later that Twitter the firm began utilizing the phrase too. (Originally, Twitter most well-liked “twittering.”) Twitterific additionally led the manner in using a bird logo.

Third-party apps have had a large affect on how we use smartphone apps usually, not just Twitter. A consumer known as Tweetie is broadly credited for inventing the pull-to-refresh interplay that’s turn into nearly ubiquitous all through iOS and Android for refreshing all types of feeds. Even should you haven’t heard of Tweetie earlier than, you will have used it; in 2010, Twitter acquired it and made it the official iPhone client. In 2015, the firm additionally employed a developer of a unique third-party consumer to improve its Android app.

Screenshot of Tweetie 2 compared to Twitter for iPhone.

Left: Tweetie 2 in 2010. Right: Twitter for iPhone in 2011.
Images: Tweetie / Twitter through The Wayback Machine

It’s additionally not the solely time Twitter acquired a well-liked third-party consumer outright. TweetDeck, part of The Verge’s newsroom to today, was an unbiased app for years till the company bought it.

Third-party consumer customers, who numbered in the millions in 2018, usually loved options years earlier than they got here to the official app. Echofon added the ability to mute undesirable customers and hashtags in 2011, a function the official variations didn’t get until 2014.

Screenshot of the Echofon Twitter app displaying the timeline view.

An Echofon screenshot from 2011.
Screenshot: Echofon through The Wayback Machine

The apps have additionally acted as secure havens from Twitter’s modifications; they didn’t have the flood of beneficial and out-of-order tweets that the official app did, and so they gave us choices for utilizing a Twitter app for Macs after the official one was discontinued for a 12 months. And, sure, folks have used third-party shoppers to get an ad-free Twitter expertise, not as a result of they purposefully stripped out adverts however as a result of Twitter didn’t serve them via the API. (Side notice: it’s exhausting to consider that Twitter couldn’t have made different apps serve adverts if it needed or wanted to.)

At occasions, Twitter has seemingly acknowledged the worth outdoors builders added. “third get together shoppers have had a notable affect on the Twitter service and the merchandise we constructed,” learn a 2018 memo from Rob Johnson, who was the firm’s developer platform lead at the time. “Independent builders constructed the first Twitter consumer for Mac and the first native app for iPhone. These shoppers pioneered product options everyone knows and love.” And in a 2010 blog post, Twitter stated individuals who used third-party shoppers had been “a few of the most energetic and frequent customers, noting that “a disproportionate quantity of the visitors from Twitter runs via such instruments.”

Despite the reward, the relationship between Twitter and out of doors builders was usually fraught. The firm’s developer settlement has had an off-and-on rule barring alternative apps that competed with its official shoppers, and for years the firm launched new options that it didn’t assist in its API, which means that third-party shoppers couldn’t have them.

Before Musk took over, nonetheless, the firm gave the impression to be making amends. It clarified its guidelines with the categorical intent of creating issues simpler for third-party shoppers, began speaking extra, and its API v2 lastly gave builders entry to options like polls and group DMs. In late 2021, Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad informed me, “the tempo of improvement and open-ness have been considerably improved in comparison with a few of the darker days.” And in 2022, he known as the firm releasing a v2 model of its dwelling timeline API “a sign that they’re going to proceed to permit and even encourage different shoppers.”

It’s not just third-party shoppers which have made the Twitter expertise higher. There are a number of different outdoors instruments which have improved the expertise, akin to Thread Reader, Block Party or Twitlonger. (Historically, Twitter customers relied on a third-party device known as TwitPic to publish footage to the site earlier than that function was built-in.) Most of these apps seem to nonetheless be working, however as we’ve seen, that would change at any time, and Twitter has the means to forestall you from posting hyperlinks to them.

Of course, doing so would possible lead to huge consumer backlash and would make the service worse. But based mostly on Twitter’s latest actions, that wouldn’t make it out of the query.

I’m not making an attempt to argue that Twitter has by no means give you options by itself, or picked up consumer options by itself, as a result of it has. (The retweet, hashtag, and @ mention had been famously invented by customers, typically with the help of third-party apps, however Twitter applied them successfully.) My level is that an ecosystem of third-party apps competing with one another and the official consumer is going to provide extra good concepts than a single firm may by itself. 

Elon Musk just determined to throw all of that away. Twitter has abruptly reduce itself off from that stream of concepts — the stream that produced its apps, a few of its hottest options, and far of its core id. Even if he backtracks, why would builders spend their greatest concepts on an organization that’s burned them so badly?