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Twitter’s “peace offering” to developers is meaningless


Twitter Inc. has a proposition for app makers: Let’s start over.

Two years ago, Twitter irked developers with stricter rules around applications that plug into the social-media service. This week Twitter hopes to regain their trust and attract a broader set of app makers when it hosts its first developer conference in four years.

As a peace offering, Twitter on Wednesday is expected to announce a suite of tools that aim to make it easier for programmers to build apps, according to people familiar with the matter.

I’m not sure whether this “let’s start over” talking point is coming from Twitter PR or the WSJ, but it’s misguided.

Twitter’s API requires OAuth not only for its alleged security improvements, which are weak, but also to control and limit app developers. If any app could make API calls with HTTPS Basic Auth like the original Twitter API, Twitter would have no reliable way to identify which requests came from which app, so they wouldn’t be able to enforce their restrictions and branding requirements. Any API that requires apps to register with the service and identify themselves with each request is politically unreliable because the service will always have a much bigger stick to wield whenever it’s convenient.

But that’s not the biggest problem — even an anonymous API is shaky ground because it can always change or disappear, like Twitter’s original API did. The problem is still the complete power over an increasingly important communication medium residing in a single company and its single centralized service.

Companies grow and change. Business needs change. Founders and leaders move on and get replaced.

Especially at Twitter. Twitter started out as a developer-friendly company, then they became a developer-hostile company, and now they’re trying to be a developer-friendly company again. If I had to pick a company to have absolute power over something very important, Twitter wouldn’t be very high on the list.

They’re not obsessed with messing with developers’ heads — we’re just innocent bystanders getting hit whenever this fundamentally insecure, jealous, unstable company changes direction, which happens every few years. Twitter is never happy being Twitter, and it seems at times that its leadership doesn’t realize or doesn’t value what makes it so great. (Ever wonder why there’s so much leadership turnover?) And they’re now under the financial pressures of being a high-profile public company. It’s a powder keg.

Maybe they’ll tell us how great we are this week and they won’t burn us again. And I’m sure the people saying that on stage at their conference will honestly believe that. But it’s only a matter of time before those people move on to different jobs, Twitter’s direction changes again, and developers suddenly find themselves in the wrong quadrant of the newest initiative.

Twitter will never, and should never, have any credibility with developers again. Enjoy it while it lasts, but be ready for it to disappear at any moment.