api fail – Stay N Alive

Oops, Twitter Does it Again

Oops I did it again - Britney SpearsI don’t think Twitter is listening. In fact, I remember a few of them mentioning they don’t read the news or blogs so that it doesn’t affect their work. Perhaps it’s about time they start. Today I blogged over on LouisGray about a cool new change to the e-mail notifications on Twitter where they now show a user’s profile image and follower/friend data along with the new follower e-mails they send to you. (and dang it – MG beat me to the news. He’s good!)

What is scary though is what actually happened behind the scenes in this change. Today Twitter, again without notice to developers, completely changed the format of both their new follower and DM e-mails from plain text, to HTML multi-part format, completely breaking any app that was relying on those formats to parse and process new follows or direct messages.

What’s funny is that the very apps I was saying Twitter was venturing into competing ground with, Topify, and Twimailer, are the very types of apps that would have been broken by this change. In addition, apps like Greg Lavallee’s addNetflix app are now broken because they were relying on the plain-text format of the new DM e-mails. In my previous post about Twitter doing this, Greg commented, stating, “When I first read this post last month I thought, “well, if you code your application well, it should take into account potential changes from Twitter.” I also thought that Twitter would warn us about bigger changes. Wrong on both counts.” Many apps are relying on these e-mails, some of them probably completely unaware their apps are broken at the moment.

This issue was brought up on the Twitter developers list this afternoon by TwitReport developer, “TjL” (“Can Twitter Please Pick a From, and Stick With It?”). Evidently the new format also broke the new follower statistics for his app, and has happened multiple times causing him to have to re-educate his users to re-do their filters every time. Matt Sanford, Twitter API Team member responded explaining,

“We had changed the from address to try and improve bounce reporting and prevent being marked as spam by major ISPs. When we added the HTML formatting we found that we needed a consistent address for the ‘always display images’ option in many clients so we changed things around again. Hopefully this will be the last change as it causes us a bunch of work as well. I’ll keep an eye out for future changes and try and let people know.”

The conversation went on to discuss further elements of the e-mail, and Sanford suggested they were going to change the e-mails again after the discussion. I think TjL reflected the developer community’s frustration exactly when he responded to the further changes,

“Seriously? I’ve already started telling people to change their filters
and now they’re going to break *again*.

This is why daddy drinks.

All kidding aside, I don’t understand how a change like this gets
pushed out without the left hand knowing WTF the right hand is doing —
which is what it looks like (from an outsider’s perspective) happened.

IMO/FWIW: You’ve gotten too big to make these sorts of changes without
more consideration and communication. It makes me look bad as a
developer, and it makes Twitter look bad.

The irony is that you’re a company built around communication.”

Twitter has got to change their ways – on my blog posts about this I’m seeing comment after comment of developers now refusing to develop on the Twitter development platform because of their lack of warning during changes like this. The thing is I’m not complaining about rate limits or Twitter scalability or anything like that at all when I’m complaining. As developers, we simply want a little bit of communication before changes go out. I actually like Twitter. I have a business with components built on it so I want it to succeed. I also think the Twitter dev team has done an outstanding job building out this amazing API. The only area they’re failing in right now is communication. We need a) a clear developer ToS, and b) warning before changes go in, or come out. Developers have been amazingly patient for the most part regarding this, but I know there is frustration.

I want to be clear that I love what the Twitter API team is doing. I really like and respect Alex and Matt and the rest of the team working extremely hard, often to the late hours of the night working on this stuff. I’m not sure where the fault lies, but I do hope they are listening. We need some warning on this stuff guys.

There is still no official announcement on the Developer mailing list, nor any official blog post by Twitter on the e-mail changes.