Twitter Tweaks Developers with New Client Restrictions

Twitter released new Terms of Service for third-party developers restricting them from building new client apps for the platform and causing uproar in the developer ranks.

In a controversial move, Twitter updated its Terms of Service with third-party developers, essentially calling for them to stop building new clients and asserting that Twitter will hold them to a higher standard.

Via a March 11 statement, Ryan Sarver, director of platform at Twitter, announced the company's new developer terms, citing the need for a more "consistent user experience." Sarver added that this was Twitter's motivation for acquiring Tweetie-the Twitter client for Mac-and for Twitter developing its own official iPhone app as well as official apps for the Mac, iPad, Android and Windows Phone, and why it worked with Research In Motion on its Twitter for BlackBerry app. "As a result, the top five ways that people access Twitter are official Twitter apps," Sarver said.

However, developers argue that it has been third-party developers who have helped make Twitter so successful. In his statement, Sarver notes that Twitter has grown from 48 million tweets a day at this time last year to more than 140 million tweets a day today.

Yet, "our user research shows that consumers continue to be confused by the different ways that a fractured landscape of third-party Twitter clients display tweets and let users interact with core Twitter functions," Sarver said

With that in mind, Twitter moved to provide developers with some guidance in the form of an update to its Terms of Service.

"Developers have told us that they'd like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter," Sarver said. "More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no."

Moreover, Sarver added: "If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users' privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained."

Meanwhile, Twitter suggests that "ecosystem developers" focus on other areas such as publisher tools, curation of content, real-time data signals, social CRM, and value-added content and vertical experiences.

Sarver said the new moves are all about consistency and the need to limit and control fragmentation. "Twitter is a network, and its network effects are driven by users seeing and contributing to the network's conversations," he said. "We need to ensure users can interact with Twitter the same way everywhere."

Developer reaction was swift. In response to Sarver's statement, one responder identified as Eric Mill said: "I'm not sure you can say these things and simultaneously try to say you have a welcoming developer environment. All third party Twitter developers, no matter what they make, are now walking on eggshells, constantly at risk of offending Twitter's ideas of how users should interact with Twitter."

And a responder identified as TJ Luoma added that Sarver's statement should be translated to, "Thanks for building apps that made people want to use Twitter. Thanks for putting up with us through the months and months of instability. We'll take over from here. If you want to try to build something around the fringes of Twitter, that's fine, but really, we don't need you anymore. Goodbye."