A Little Birdie Told me Twitter was Doing Product Strategy via API

5 minute read
Stephen Fishman avatar

Late last week, Twitter announced a series of API changes that it plans to launch in the upcoming weeks. The changes covered several different areas including changes to authentication requirements, changes to number of calls an end-point can make to Twitter in an hour (both up and down) and creating a series of binding agreements that developers and applications must adhere to. While the API will be released shortly, developers will have a migration period of 6 months before the old API is retired.

We Are The Knights Who Say Tweet!

While the individual changes themselves are indeed interesting, the fun stuff lies just beyond the surface in what the changes mean to both Twitter's business strategy and to its overall approach to product strategy and development as well. These changes are not random demands for "shrubberies" but rather a fully acknowledged attempt to encourage and discourage specific partner and developer behaviors when integrating with and leveraging Twitter's platform. In other words, Twitter has fully embraced the idea that its API is a product to be designed for a specific set of consumers along with a specific strategy in mind (something predicted in these pages earlier this year).

Twitter is still in the throes of figuring out how to fully monetize its immensely popular micro-blogging platform and has made these changes with an eye towards furthering its profitability goals. By throttling smaller apps and unleashing larger ones, twitter has furthered its ability to charge enterprise media partners for access to the firehose of tweets in search results and also for trending topics.

The authentication, partnering and rate limiting changes will directly go after data scrapers in two ways (also predicted in these pages earlier this year):

  1. The lower rate limit (more than five times less than its current amount) will make it harder to do mass scraping and will force any programmatic scrapers to identify themselves with a license key.
  2. The upper rate limit (just over twice the currently supported amount) will give scrapers a legitimate opportunity to abandon scraping and legitimize their use of twitter data.

No One Expects The Twitter Inquisition!

Another big shift is Twitter's move from display guidelines to display requirements along with a certification requirement for certain Twitter apps. Twitter will now require its developers to adhere to a specific set of rules to standardize appearance and functionality. Twitter has justified this change by citing that it will give a better, and more standard, interface to its end users and has reserved the right to revoke license keys from any non-conformists. Some developers have cried foul citing that this will limit the individual Twitter-client developers ability to differentiate their user experience and their overall ability to make money. Well duh! Twitter basically said that in its blog post by specifically saying that it was trying to discourage developers from making new differentiated client apps for consumers.

In case it is not obvious to the solo developer community, Twitter really does not care whether you make money. Twitter cares whether Twitter makes money. In order for Twitter to make money, Twitter needs consumers to engage with Twitter on the Twitter site as much as possible. Twitter's value prop to developers is a free, functional and highly available micro-bloging platform that can easily be integrated into your site. If that is not good enough, build and market your own platform and see how much money that makes you.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you want to make money by developing a Twitter based thing you had best come up with a new way to be different. Look at the map Twitter provided and develop something in the areas they encourage. Target your offering to drive business engagement, or to provide advanced analytics to businesses or consumers.

Learning Opportunities

Twitter even did a bunch of your competitive research for you and identified the core product offerings and the strongest competitors in each area. Now all you have to do is be creative in a way that adds value to the Twitter ecosystem rather than leeches value out of the ecosystem. Rather than adopt a "What have the Roman's done for us?" attitude, figure out how to find the opportunity within this change and take advantage of it.


Even if you are not a Twitter developer or a hard-core tweeter, there is something to be learned from observing this change and how it was communicated. The API world is changing. The product strategists are beginning to understand what they are dealing with and how they can drive behavior through programmatic abstraction.

The business strategists are beginning to understand how to create and preserve competitive advantage through a technical specification. Twitter is at the forefront of this trend. How many other strategists will start their quests for their holy grail?

Editor's Note: Check out more from Stephen in his regular column for CMSWire.

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