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

The era of great third-party Twitter clients may be over. After Twitter cut off their API access and change your rules to ban apps that compete with its own, The Iconfactory has announced that it is termination of TwitterificFenix ​​has are downloaded from the app storesand Tapbots has posted a memorial for Tweetbot. It’s a loss for all the people who used the apps and, almost certainly, a loss for Twitter itself.

As many have pointed out this past week, third-party clients helped make Twitter the platform it is today, revamping parts of Twitter we take for granted and, in the early days, helping to shape the company’s very identity. They also act as a safe haven from unwanted changes, helping people keep tweeting when they’re ready to leave the platform.

Twitter didn’t put a bird in its logo until 2010. Here’s a screenshot from the Twitterific site in 2007, with the bird explaining how to install the Mac app. The iPhone’s App Store wouldn’t appear until more than a year later.
Image: The Iconfactory

Take for example that word I just used – tweeting. The idea that a “tweet” would be what we call a Twitter post didn’t actually come from the company itself, according to blog post by Twitterific developer Craig Hockenberry. Instead, it was suggested by Blaine Cook, a QA tester for third-party client The Iconfactory, and immediately accepted. It wasn’t until at least a year later that the company Twitter also started using the phrase. (Twitter originally preferred “Twittering.”) Twitterific also led the way using a bird logo.

Third-party apps have had a huge impact on how we use smartphone apps in general, not just Twitter. A client called Tweetie is widely credited with inventing the pull-to-refresh interaction that has become almost ubiquitous on iOS and Android to refresh all kinds of emissions. Even if you haven’t heard of Tweetie before, you may have used it; in 2010 Twitter acquired it and made it an official iPhone client. In 2015, the company also hired a developer at a different third-party client to improve your 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 via The Wayback Machine

Also, this isn’t the only time Twitter has acquired a downright popular third-party client. TweetDeck, part of On the edge‘s newsroom until today, was an independent app for years until the company bought it.

Third Party Client Users who numbers in the millions in 2018, often enjoyed features years before they came to the official app. Echophone added the ability to mute unwanted users and hashtags in 2011, a feature in official versions did not receive until 2014.

A screenshot of the Echofon Twitter app showing the timeline view.

Echofon screenshot from 2011.
Screenshot: Echofon via The Wayback Machine

Apps have also acted as a refuge from Twitter’s changes; they didn’t have the flow of recommended and irregular tweets like the official app and gave us options to use the Twitter Mac app after the official one suspended for one year. And, yes, people have used third-party clients to get an ad-free Twitter experience, not because they purposefully removed ads, but because Twitter didn’t serve them through the API. (Side note: It’s hard to believe that Twitter couldn’t make alternative apps show ads if it wanted to or needed to.)

Sometimes Twitter seems to recognize the value added by third-party developers. “Third-party customers have had a significant impact on the Twitter service and the products we’ve built,” it read note from 2018 Rob Johnson, who was head of the company’s developer platform at the time. “Independent developers created the first Twitter client for Mac and the first native app for iPhone. These customers are pioneering the product features we all know and love.” And c blog post from 2010Twitter said people who used third-party clients were “among the most active and frequent users,” noting that “a disproportionate amount of Twitter traffic goes through such tools.”

Despite the praise, the relationship between Twitter and third-party developers was such often performed. The company’s developer agreement has an opt-out and opt-in rule prohibition of alternative applications that competed with its official clients, and for years the company introduced new features it didn’t support in its API, which meant third-party clients couldn’t have them.

Before Musk took over, however, the company seemed to be on the mend. It make your rules clear with the express intention of making things easier for third-party clients, began to communicate more, and its API v2 finally gave developers access to features like polls and group DMs. At the end of 2021, Tapbots co-founder Paul Haddad told me that “the pace of development and openness has greatly improved compared to some of the darker days.” And in 2022, he called the company releasing v2 of its Home Timeline API “an indication that they will continue to allow and even encourage alternative clients.”

It’s not just third-party clients that have made the Twitter experience better. There are several other external tools that have improved the experience, such as Thread reader, Block party or Twitlonger. (Historically, Twitter users relied on a third-party tool called TwitPic to post photos to the site before this feature was built in.) Most of these apps still seem to work, but as we’ve seen, that could change at anytime and Twitter has the ability to prevent you from posting links to them.

Of course, this is likely to cause a huge user backlash and degrade the service. But based on Twitter’s recent actions, that wouldn’t make it out of the question.

I’m not trying to say that Twitter never invented features on its own or took suggestions from users on its own, because it did. ( retweet, hashtag and @ mention sometimes they are invented by users using third-party applicationsbut Twitter implemented them effectively.) I mean, an ecosystem of third-party apps competing with each other and the official client will produce more good ideas than a company could on its own.

Elon Musk just decided to throw it all away. Twitter suddenly broke away from that flow of ideas — the flow that created its apps, some of its most popular features, and much of its core identity. Even if it does, why would developers spend their best ideas on a company that has burned them so badly?

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