There's drama in the Twitterverse today thanks to a blog post from Twitter and another from LinkedIn that followed within minutes. Twitter's post re-emphasized something it had said over a year ago (amid similar drama), that it would not look fondly upon developers who use Twitter's APIs to "build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience." Back then, the post led to concerns that Twitter was about to immediately cut off 3rd party apps. That didn't happen, but it did seem like a warning of some kind.
The difference this time around is that Twitter's post was immediately followed by the news that LinkedIn's Twitter integration would be ending. Since 2009, LinkedIn has displayed Tweets from its users within the LinkedIn site. Going forward, LinkedIn users will only be able to send tweets out, not view them within the site itself.
Why the change? For that, we go back to Twitter's post, which puts the "consumer client experience" in a context that sheds some light on the whole situation. In it, Twitter's Michael Sippey points out "the increasing importance of us providing the core Twitter consumption experience through a consistent set of products and tools" and does so after describing the many new features found on Twitter's website. In fact, Twitter's aim is to "build applications that run within Tweets" and "allow third parties to build into Twitter." In other words — Twitter would rather developers bring their content into Twitter, not put Twitter into their sites and apps.
However, as TechCrunch points out, that philosophy doesn't seem to be entirely consistent with Twitter's own recent actions. Less than a month ago, Twitter updated its integration with Facebook — sending more of Twitter's metadata into Facebook's content network. True, that integration does a fairly good job of integrating some of Twitter's core features, but if the sole motivation was to prevent other websites from re-displaying Twitter's data, one would think that the company wouldn't be wasting development cycles on its Facebook integration — which seems likely here to stay.
Setting that aside for the moment, there's a more foreboding message for third party developers than inconsistency between partners. Sippey writes that "in the coming weeks, we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used." That could mean a lot of things for third party developers, but it's not difficult to spin a tale of woe for anybody with an app that appears to be similar to the "mainstream Twitter consumer client experience."
Anybody who makes or uses an app that uses Twitter's API will just have to wait and see what these "stricter guidelines" will be and wonder about Twitter's motivation. It could very easily be advertising dollars, money Twitter can't make if users aren't on its site and its apps — money Twitter has actually done a pretty good job of raking in lately. That could imply that Twitter is simply taking aim at other websites rather than apps per-se. Sippey writes
Ultimately, we want to make sure that the Twitter experience is straightforward and easy to understand -- whether you’re on Twitter.com or elsewhere on the web.Emphasis ours above. Trying to read into Twitter's statement and guess whether it means just websites or apps or what isn't really the point, though. Twitter should try harder to make its policies for developers as "straightfoward and easy to understand" as it has made its consumer-facing site.