Yesterday, we told the story of how our Twitter client TweetDeck had suddenly stopped working a few days ago, causing us to switch to another Twitter client (we switched to Twitter’s own client, which we have since ditched, but that’s another story).
We assumed–correctly–that Twitter had done something that killed the app.
What Twitter had done, we later learned, was change the way it authorizes third-party apps. Twitter had apparently discussed this impending change on its blog, but since we don’t read Twitter’s blog and we don’t care about how our apps are authorised, we didn’t know about it.
Our story provoked a strong response on Twitter, including many sympathetic howls of pain from other TweetDeck users, and a violent attack on our whole enterprise by a normally charming tech god named Chris Sacca. We were confused about the vehemence of Chris’s attack… until we remembered that he is a Twitter investor.Twitter is slowly killing off many of the startups that were founded to take advantage of its open infrastructure–startups that helped make Twitter the global behemoth it is today. Twitter obviously feels badly about this: It’s no fun to eat your children. Twitter also still benefits greatly from the lock-in of having so many apps built on its platform, so it wants to encourage people to keep building those apps. So, as Twitter gradually kills off some third-party apps and replaces them with its own, Twitter is eager to maintain the impression that it is not, in fact, killing anyone but merely building its business.
And it is perhaps that conflict and angst (and yesterday’s app-user frustration) that led to Twitter to make what appears to be a belated and lame-arse attempt at damage control.
This morning, two days after Twitter’s authorization change broke many third-party apps, Twitter sent out the email below to its users. The email notified users that “over the coming weeks,” Twitter will be making changes that will “impact how you interact with Twitter applications.”
The email goes on to say that, “starting August 31, all apps will be required to use “OAuth” to access your Twitter account.” (The explanation of OAuth was helpful, but no one outside of the techo-chamber could give a rat’s arse about it.)
Twitter “will be making changes?” Apps will be required to use OAuth? August 31 was two days ago. Is this the PR equivalent of back-dating a check to make it look like you paid your debt on time?
And then there are those vague euphemisms that attempt to mask what really happened. Instead of just telling it straight–“We’re making changes that might break your apps”–Twitter wrapped the message in lame PR-speak: The change will “impact how you interact with Twitter applications.”
We’re actually OK with Twitter killing its children. Twitter never promised that it wouldn’t kill its children, and Twitter obviously needs to build a real business. And entrepreneurs who bet their companies on Twitter need to take responsibility for that and do whatever they can to break the addition.
What we find lame is Twitter’s attempt to have it both ways: Being the beloved, open platform on which entrepreneurs are encouraged to build apps that make Twitter more useful AND eagerly devouring some of those children at the same time.
So, man up, Twitter. Just tell it like it is. Find a better way to let your users know ahead of time when you’re going to break their apps. And if you DO break them, just try a simple apology.
Here’s the email:
Hi [Twitter user],
Over the coming weeks, we will be making two important updates that will impact how you interact with Twitter applications. We are sending this notice to all Twitter users to make sure you are aware of these changes.
What are applications?
There are over 250,000 applications built using the Twitter API. To use most applications, you first authorise the application to access your Twitter account, after which you can use it to read and post Tweets, discover new users and more. Applications come in many varieties, including desktop applications like TweetDeck, Seesmic, or EchoFon, websites such as TweetMeme, fflick, or Topsy, or mobile applications such as Twitter for iPhone, Twitter for Blackberry, or Foursquare.
Update 1: New authorization rules for applications
Starting August 31, all applications will be required to use “OAuth” to access your Twitter account.
- OAuth is a technology that enables applications to access Twitter on your behalf with your approval without asking you directly for your password.
- Desktop and mobile applications may still ask for your password once, but after that request, they are required to use OAuth in order to access your timeline or allow you to tweet.
What does this mean for me?
- Applications are no longer allowed to store your password.
- If you change your password, the applications will continue to work.
- Some applications you have been using may require you to reauthorize them or may stop functioning at the time of this change.
- All applications you have authorised will be listed at http://twitter.com/settings/connections.
- You can revoke access to any application at any time from the list.
Update 2: t.co URL wrapping
In the coming weeks, we will be expanding the roll-out of our link wrapping service t.co, which wraps links in Tweets with a new, simplified link. Wrapped links are displayed in a way that is easier to read, with the actual domain and part of the URL showing, so that you know what you are clicking on. When you click on a wrapped link, your request will pass through the Twitter service to check if the destination site is known to contain malware, and we then will forward you on to the destination URL. All of that should happen in an instant.
You will start seeing these links on certain accounts that have opted-in to the service; we expect to roll this out to all users by the end of the year. When this happens, all links shared on Twitter.com or third-party apps will be wrapped with a t.co URL.
What does this mean for me?
- A really long link such as http://www.amazon.com/Delivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose/dp/0446563048 might be wrapped as http://t.co/DRo0trj for display on SMS, but it could be displayed to web or application users as amazon.com/Delivering- or as the whole URL or page title.
- You will start seeing links in a way that removes the obscurity of shortened links and lets you know where each link will take you.
- When you click on these links from Twitter.com or a Twitter application, Twitter will log that click. We hope to use this data to provide better and more relevant content to you over time.
Thanks for reading this important update. Come and check what’s new at http://twitter.com.
The Twitter Team
See Also: Here’s Who Just Got Killed By Twitter