12 Most Scornful Ways the API Wars Hurt Users
Twitter and Facebook both made news recently for shoring up access to their API. My heart goes out to my friends in the development world. The very thing that helped to put these platforms on the map, apps, are slowly disappearing one by one. I do not envy the weight that success brings. Twitter and Facebook have both faced issues montezing their platforms, but neither are lacking the funding they need to continue operations.
What happens when the evolution of a platform comes to a screeching halt? API, which allows developers to build upon the frameworks of others, boosts innovation in technology. The developers at these companies will push things forward, but they can not do it at the pace an open API allows for. These are the 12 most significant ways these decisions impact users.
1. Bye, bye, apps
There is a threat that some beloved apps may go away. At the beginnging of August CEO of Flipboard, Mike McCue, left Twitter’s board. It seems clear that any app using the Twitter API to show case tweets is about to disappear. People flock to these clients in the first place because they present informtaion in a way that the original platform can’t. Losing these apps means that there is only one interface for access that is not always the optimal choices for users.
2. Data control
API’s allow us to access our data in the ways that we choose. Facebook’s changes will keep that data well within the walls of Facebook. Yes you will still have access, but you won’t be able to pull that data in any way that can be used on another social network. Which means that data, unless you download it yourself, is inaccessable for use outside of Facebook.
3. Bubble burst
Is the Tech bubble bursting? As platforms reign in control over data they prevent new technology from even launching. After the announcement of Twitter’s API restrictions in July, rumors say that VC’s have put fundng on hold for startups that need the API to survive. It could be time to Pivot or die on the vine.
4. Bad blood
Twitter was improved by developers who worked on the user interface issues. Many of these early apps were later acquired and folded into the platform. Now that the platforms are shutting these same developers out, there is a storm brewing in the development community. Google Chief of Social spoke out in support of open source, welcoming devs into the Google+ fold (whose API is yet to be released). When developers are impacted so are their potential customers.
It is clear that the “walled garden approach” is being used in cutting off these APIs. More and more they are catering to brands and reverting to an earlier state of online media. This is not a bad thing in itself, but we have to consider the fact that these brands want to stick to traditional models. The same traditions that platforms like Twitter and Facebook disrupted.
As apps disappear the networks become less useful. One draw to Twitter is the sheer number of ways we can organize the data. Look to Vizify to see how that can be made awesome.
Facebook’s more than 600 million users cushion it from any fallout from their decisions. Some people will leave if they can’t access the apps they once treasured. Will that be enough to convince most to move on? Probably not. It is still much more convenient to stay with Facebook or Twitter than to rebuild friendships on a new network.
APIs allow users to interact globally and in unison. There are some cool experiments around that turn data into collaborative art through API. Limiting APIs limits the ways we can connect with others.
Some API’s play nicely together. LampSquare allows you turn on the lights in Brooklyn, well just one. Using FourSquare and a check-in you can literally turn the light on or off. Everytime this happens a tweet is sent to @lampsquare. Bizarre maybe, but shows that API’s influence the real world too. It would suck to lose that before it could be fully developed.
One of the features that has been the most useful in social media is the ability to login via a social network. For example, on 12 Most you can comment with Livefyre by granting access to your Facebook or Twitter profile. This feature may be hard to come by if either platform insists that developers only use one.
11. Data dashboards
Hands up — how many business owners reading this post use HootSuite or a similar app? Data dashboards pull in data from multiple networks and store them in one place. These clients might find themselves violating API use guidelines in the future.
There are some great widgets out there for bloggers to use. Using Twitter’s API, instead of the official widget, allows you to customize how your data appears to readers. This type of functionality is something that could be on the chopping block since it competes with Twitter’s own “Follow Button.”
This post cannot be all doom and gloom. There are some distinct advantages to not having an open API. I can think of three; privacy, safety, and reliability.
How do you feel about these choices on the part of Twitter and Facebook? Do you agree or disagree? Is there an alternative that can benefit users, developers, brands and platforms?
Featured image courtesy of .Uvitra licensed via Creative Commons.