Until this morning, we had no idea things were so dire for 3rd-party Twitter applications.
According to Apps of a Feather, which appears to be a possible consortium of 3rd-party Twitter app developers, once June 19 of this year comes, something called “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. In short, this means two things for 3rd-party Twitter apps like Talon, Tweetbot, and others: Push notifications will no longer arrive and timelines will not refresh automatically.
Obviously, if you’re a user of a 3rd-party app, this is an issue in terms of usability. If you’re a developer, it means your app is about to become useless to users and probably means you’ll have to shut it down.
If Twitter was in the business of helping these 3rd-party developers, they would likely reach out and talk about ways the developers could go about recreating this soon to be lost functionality. According to Apps of a Feather, that has yet to happen and developers have not been provided access to the new Account Activity API that is currently in testing.
For a more detailed explanation of what’s happening on the backend, I’ll let the professionals fill you in.
Third-party apps open a network connection to Twitter and receive a continuous stream of updates (hence the name). For push notifications, this connection is done on the developer’s server and used to generate messages that are sent to your devices. For timeline updates, the stream is opened directly on your mobile device or desktop computer.
This streaming connection is being replaced by an Account Activity API. This new infrastructure is based on “webhooks” that Twitter uses to contact your server when there’s activity for an account. But there are problems for app developers…
Now, even if 3rd-party developers were provided access and they worked out a way to implement push notifications again, another issue is Twitter’s limit on how many accounts can be run through a “standard level” of the API. The current limit is 35 Twitter accounts. When we’re talking about multiple 3rd-party apps that have been around for quite some time, that amounts to potentially hundreds of thousands of accounts, meaning there is no way to make it work unless developers opt to pay for an Enterprise level of service with unlimited accounts. As you might expect, an Enterprise level will not be cheap, creating yet another issue for 3rd-party developers to face.
For some time, Twitter has specifically stated that they do not want 3rd-party apps to simply mimic the official Twitter client, regardless of whether a given platform has a native client or not. In creating these apps, the developers have gone against Twitter’s wishes, which could be why Twitter really doesn’t care how their actions affect others. As end users, though, all we want is the best Twitter experience possible and whether people get that from Twitter’s native app or a 3rd-party app shouldn’t really matter so long as people are using the service. Given Twitter is now a publicly traded company, ads and the idea that these 3rd-party apps are essentially taking money away from Twitter could be playing a big role in this whole debacle, but that is a another story for different time.
As users, there could be something you can do about all of this. Let Twitter know how you feel. Whether or not they listen, who knows, but at least you can try. Feel free to reach out to @TwitterDev on Twitter using the hashtag #BreakingMyTwitter and share your thoughts.
Good luck, 3rd-party Twitter apps.
Update: Twitter has announced it is delaying its June 19 deprecation date, but isn’t providing much else. Developers looking to get beta access to the Activity API can apply here. Keep up the pressure, folks.
// Apps of a Feather