Earlier this week, SoundCloud quietly announced it would be limiting access to the music and podcasts hosted on the site to outside developers as it tries to crack down on those who would abuse the service.
As of July 1st, third-party apps that hook into SoundCloud will only get 15,000 song plays total in every 24 hour period. The official SoundCloud embedded player is unaffected, as is the main SoundCloud app, so the vast majority of average users won’t even notice.
For developers, this means that if you make an app that uses SoundCloud for audio, and you have 5,000 users, they each get three plays before SoundCloud suspends your access to its public API — the “hook” that programmers use to integrate their apps with an outside service.
Developers are pretty upset, judging from the comments on the news from SoundCloud’s official blog post: “Hate to say it but the end is near,” reads the first response.
“Hanging by a thread! I didn’t think you could actually make it any worse but you have,” reads another.
It seems that this change was made because some unscrupulous parties were using this API access to build apps that would artificially boost up the number of plays on a SoundCloud track, vastly inflating their popularity. By limiting access, it drastically reduces their ability to game the system. But it has a splash effect on other developers putting it to legitimate usage.
In the grand scheme of things, this only affects a small subset of developers, and there are alternatives like sfx.io out there for coders who need a similar service. And, at least according to SoundCloud, not many developers were using the API in this way anyway.
But it points to a major business decision that most tech companies have to make: How much developer freedom is too much?
As a recent example: Back in 2012, Twitter shut down most of its public APIs to outside developers, completely killing the burgeoning market for third-party Twitter apps — apps that users loved.
At the time, Twitter was investing heavily in its burgeoning advertising business, and third-party clients posed a risk — they could easily be made to not display any ads. That would have been good for users, but bad for Twitter’s bottom line. And so, the axe came down on Twitter’s APIs.
Even more recently, in November 2014, Netflix shut down its own public API to focus its energy on making its internal services better. This had the side-effect of killing off third-party services like A Better Queue that people liked using to manage their Netflix account, since they could no longer pull data down from the movie site.
In all cases, the public API helped these services grow, as developers provided useful extra features and services that the companies couldn’t originally build in-house.
But at a certain point, to build a sustainable business, a line must sometimes be drawn in the sand. This move makes it a little more appealing for SoundCloud’s base of mainly independent artists, who will have more assurance that the music rankings are honest, and making them more likely to stay with the service.
SoundCloud did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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