Last Friday, a ton of popular Twitter clients including Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Echofon were down. Users couldn’t log into their accounts or look at their timelines. At first, it looked like a bug in Twitter API, but radio silence from Twitter and new details indicated that the company deliberately limited access to third-party apps.
On Friday, late evening PST time, many users noticed that they could not access their third-party Twitter clients. The app makers quickly acknowledged the issue and said that they had been trying to contact the company.
A Japan-based developer noted at the time that many smaller Twitter clients were working without any glitches. Many folks in the community speculated that it could be an issue with the API or that the company is limiting access to larger clients.
The radio silence
While developers and users expected Twitter to communicate with them in some ways, the company and its new owner Elon Musk maintained radio silence about the problem. However, the Tesla CEO tweeted everything ranging from the latest Falcon Heavy launch to building transparency on Twitter by publishing the platform’s tweet recommendation code.
Internal messages on Twitter indicated that shutting down certain third-party clients was a company decision rather than a bug, The Information reported over the weekend. The report said that one project manager told the product team that the company had “started to work on comms,” but didn’t provide any timeline for official and approved communication.
Since the beginning of the saga, many developers have expressed their frustrations on Twitter and Mastodon. Twitterrific-maker Craig Hockenberry posted a blog post called “The Shit Show,” in which he said “Personally, I’m done. And with a vengeance.”
Fenix developer Matteo Villa said on Twitter that he is considering pulling the client from the App Store— which is working at the time of writing — because he fears that the client might stop working at a point.
And I’m honestly thinking of also pulling Fenix for iOS from the app store.
People are still downloading it, and who knows if or when it’ll stop working.
— Matteo Villa (@mttvll) January 15, 2023
Tweetbot co-creator Paul Haddad even tried to make the app work by loading in old API keys. That trick worked for a while and some folks were able to access their accounts. However, users started to hit an API limit and the client was later suspended again.
iOS developer Mysk said on their account that Tweetbot ran into the limit of 300 posts per 15 minutes — which was applicable for old v1.1 API — for all users.
Correction: all Tweetbot users now share a rate limit of 300 posts per 3 hours.
API calls sent by Tweetbot now show that the app resorted to API v1.1, it used to support v2 as per the app description. pic.twitter.com/YRpteEzm3T
— Mysk 🇨🇦🇩🇪 (@mysk_co) January 15, 2023
Earlier, they had built a demo client to show that Twitter’s API was working and the suspension of third-party apps was not because of a bug.
Just tested a bunch of third-party Twitter apps for both iOS and Android: many seem to work. Also created a demo client to test the API. All functions work. Twitter backend doesn’t seem to be broken. Looks like those popular apps were suspended for some reason. https://t.co/WrkW8rqFK3
— Mysk 🇨🇦🇩🇪 (@mysk_co) January 13, 2023
A bunch of these developers were concerned about handling refunds for folks who have subscribed to the pro or premium versions of their apps if Twitter banned third-party clients. That would also mean that their annual income would go down and they would have to build new products while making no money.
The way forward
Some developers have already shown intent of concentrating on other projects. Haddad told TechCrunch over an email that Tweetbot is concentrating on launching its Mastodon client Ivory — which is currently in a closed beta — at an accelerated pace.
He said that currently the team is focused on making the onboarding experience better, then fixing the bugs and working towards an App Store release.
Villa also released a beta version of his Mastodon client Wolly on Apple’s test platform Testflight.
Three days in, still no news from the glorious Twitter management. Very cool indeed.
Fenix on iOS inexplicably still working 🤷♂️
Let’s continue working on #woolly, there’s still a ton to do.
Get it on TestFlight if you want to try a new Mastodon app.https://t.co/7yiczuu430
— Matteo Villa (@mttvll) January 16, 2023
For some other developers, the situation is bleak. As iOS developer Adam Demasi noted that some indie developers whose primary product was a Twitter client might face a difficult time.
We have proof now that suspending Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and 23 other clients was intentional.
Tapbots are lucky to be making Ivory, and Iconfactory are lucky they have other apps. The others, maybe not so much. Such is the unending stress of being controlled by a gatekeeper. https://t.co/3boFybBndL
— Adam Demasi (@hbkirb) January 15, 2023
Since Musk took over Twitter last year, the company has shuttered several developer-related projects including Twitter Toolbox for app discovery. Some other programs in the defunct state even if the company has not announced official shutdowns. Developers have been cautious about their Twitter development plan given that the company hasn’t explicitly communicated its plans about platform support.
These kinds of moves have undone the social network’s work over the last few years to earn back developers’ trust. Last month, Twitter’s former head of developer platforms, Amir Shevat, wrote on TechCrunch that the new management broke the trust of developers. This dubious suspension of third-party Twitter clients without any communication will not instill any confidence in the community.