If you used to use Twitterific, Tweetbot, or other third-party Twitter clients recently found not working, we’ve got bad news: it appears they’ll remained banned for good. However, the way Elon Musk’s Twitter went about enforcing that ban is shady to say the least.
Last week, some of the most popular third-party clients on Twitter suddenly stopped functioning, without any sort of official explanation or notice to developers from Twitter itself. Developers of Twitterific and Tweetbot were left in the dark just like the rest of us, with some of them voicing their concerns on Twitter; days later, Twitter and its typically vocal CEO Musk were still silent on the matter.
Then, on Jan. 17, Twitter’s developer account unceremoniously tweeted that the company is “enforcing its long-standing API rules,” which may result in “some apps not working.”
Even at that time, it was still unclear which API rules were broken and by whom. Then, Twitter updated its Developer Agreement (via The Verge) with the following sentence: “You will not or attempt to (and will not allow others to)…use or access the Licensed Materials to create or attempt to create a substitute or similar service or product to the Twitter Applications.”
While Twitter hasn’t explicitly pointed to this rule, it’s likely the culprit behind the bans, as both Twitterific and Tweetbot are apps that mimic (and enhance) Twitter’s functionality.
But here’s the confusing part: If you check the same document on Wayback Machine, which keeps records of website changes over time, you’ll see that the sentence quoted above wasn’t in place until Jan 19., which is two days after Twitter’s tweet about “old rules.”
I’ve checked older snapshots of Twitter’s Developer Agreement page (here, here, here, and here), and was unable to find the “create a substitute” sentence. It is possible that Twitter had the sentence (or a similar one) in that document at some point in time, but I couldn’t find it. It’s also possible that it had the same or similar rule in place at some point, only differently worded. But it does appear like Twitter chose to first block the third-party clients, then point to a “long-standing” rule that didn’t exist, and then added that rule into its Developer Agreement.
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In any case, Twitter owns its API and is free to make and enforce rules related to it, but it would be a lot more courteous to the developers of these apps (some of which have been around for more than a decade, with a loyal following) to give them a heads-up and clarity on the matter.
After Twitterific was blocked, its developer The Iconfactory published a blog post on the situation, pointing to confusion at Twitter after Musk laid off a big chunk of the company’s workforce. “There’s been no official word from Twitter about what’s going on, but that’s unsurprising since the new owner eliminated the employees dedicated to keeping the API up and running smoothly,” the post said. In an update on Jan. 17, the day Twitter tweeted about its “long-standing” rules, The Iconfactory said that it has been “respectful of (Twitter’s) API rules, as published, for the past 16 years. We have no knowledge that these rules have changed recently or what those changes might be.”
Similarly, on Jan. 17, Tweetbot’s creator Tapbots tweeted the following: “Tweetbot has been around for over 10 years, we’ve always complied with the Twitter API rules.”
On Thursday, The Iconfactory followed up with a new blog post, saying that Twitterific had been discontinued. “We are sorry to say that the app’s sudden and undignified demise is due to an unannounced and undocumented policy change by an increasingly capricious Twitter — a Twitter that we no longer recognize as trustworthy nor want to work with any longer,” the post says.
“We are sorry to say that the app’s sudden and undignified demise is due to an unannounced and undocumented policy change by an increasingly capricious Twitter.”
– The Iconfactory
Neither Twitter nor Musk gave no reasoning for blocking third-party clients, but likely reasons are the fact that Tweetbots and Twitterific are in some ways better than Twitter’s official client, and that the company is trying to consolidate its user base in one place in order to make more money from ads and its freshly overhauled Twitter Blue subscription service.