How API access will determine the future of social

Photo: Monkeys Credit: Gloria Cheng

What would happen if everyone had to manage Twitter through the Twitter app on their phone, or through the Twitter website?  What would happen to Google Plus adoption if users could interface with it through a third-party app like Hootsuite?  We may soon have some indication.  Each at an extreme of the spectrum: Twitter is extraordinarily accessible because of their unusual openness with their read / write API (application programming interface), Google Plus is quite closed-off probably in some part due to the inaccessibility of their API (Google restricts read / write access of their API to five enterprise-level developers).

In the past week they both made some overtures about the direction that they’re heading.

Most notably. Twitter cut off API access to LinkedIn (they still retain the capability to write to Twitter, but not to publish twitter feeds on their site).  Group Product Manager Michael Sippey wrote of the change on the Twitter developer blog, noting  “we’ve already begun to more thoroughly enforce our Developer Rules of the Road with partners, for example with branding, and in the coming weeks, we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used.”  In other words, Twitter is going through the process of limiting the use of its API by third-party developers (though what that means at this point is anyone’s guess).

At the Google I/O conference, Google+ VP Bradley Horowitz intimated that Google Plus would continue to limit read / write access to their API, ironically stating that he doesn’t want “disrupt something very special.”  (I say “ironically” because there seems to be some dispute as to how many people are enjoying their “special” experience) Horowitz went on to elaborate that Google believes that automated posts “don’t really work,” though strangely they seem to work on Oracle’s Vitrue solution (at a starting cost of at least $300 per month).

The bottom line about API restrictions is the (monetary) bottom line.  Twitter can’t show you promoted posts if you’re reading tweets in LinkedIn.  Google Plus can’t show you AdWords campaigns if you are accessing it in Hootsuite (and yes, I know AdWords doesn’t appear on Google Plus yet and I suspect the reason is so that people can’t extrapolate true audience numbers from ad impressions).  Ad-frenzied Facebook filters their API to impose a severe penalty to third party posts – so it’s not anything unique to Twitter and Google Plus.  One hopes it doesn’t become a perpetual bait-and-switch.

Is the future of social something as robust and dynamic as Twitter has created with their open API?  If Twitter is any indication probably not.  Is it as restrictive as Google Plus?  If their user demographics stay slight, probably not.  Which is not to say that either of them will be around in their current incarnation in five or ten years.  By restricting access to their API, what these companies are doing is diminishing the user experience of the platform…. which begs the question why some of these functions aren’t developed or adopted by the companies themselves.

GrabInbox (post queuing, text posting) cost $40,000 to develop.  The Archivist (download Tweets to Excel) was developed by Microsoft’s MIX Online community, which (I believe) has one or two FTEs assigned to it.  There are a bevy of low-cost innovations these these platforms could develop or adopt, but they don’t.  Point being, the future of how you interface with these social platforms is tied to how much access they permit to developers, so expect a future trend towards a less robust user experience.

You can continue to buy whatever you want, so long as you buy it from the company store.

For more on this read Nova Spivak’s phenomenal “A Solution to the Twitter API Problem” post

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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.