holes – Stay N Alive

With New API, Twitter Attempts to Kill Autofollow Apps

Just this last week Twitter retired their long-lived 1.0 API for developers. This API was the first “versioned” release, a breath of fresh air in many ways for developers that were tired of API updates breaking their code. On June 11th, Twitter forced all devs to upgrade to their 1.1 API however, breaking many developers’ apps in the process (mine included). What hasn’t been said yet is that autofollow apps (apps that automatically follow people that follow you) seem to be out of luck with this new update, and no word yet from Twitter.

The problem with 1.1 lies in a new set of rate limits. Developers are allowed to make a certain number of calls per API method, meaning each method can only be called a certain number of times within a given time frame. This, I’m sure, is freeing up all kinds of resources and money on Twitter’s servers.

However, for apps relying on regular updates to a person’s social graph (their followers or friends), this reeks havoc on those apps. The rate limit currently for just getting the ids of a single user is 15 API calls per 15 minutes. Here’s the problem: you have to make a single API call for every 5,000 friends or followers that user has. Twitter’s API requires apps to “page” through a user’s friends and followers 5,000 at a time. This is great if a user has under 75,000 friends, but once you make that API call over 15 times to get a user’s friends, you’re stuck waiting another 15 minutes to get the rest of their friends. Now imagine if that user or brand has over 100,000 friends or followers! Or what about over 1 million! It’s impossible for an app that is trying to evaluate a person’s social graph to always know a person’s followers or friends in that rate limit, rendering apps like auto-follow, or even simple social graph analytics, impossible.

When you think about it, this might make sense per Twitter’s current business model. For users and brands with over 75,000 followers, I’m willing to bet Twitter would love to have them as customers. Many of those can afford an account rep that can take care of custom requests. In addition, Twitter now has their own analytics to track a user’s social graph growth over time. So maybe Twitter is discouraging these types of apps. I’m fine with that as long as they are open about it.

If this is the direction Twitter is going, I have to say I’m used to it. To be honest I haven’t been putting much effort into my own service that has focused on the social graph of Twitter users, SocialToo, because of it. In many ways it has just become another “hole” filler in Twitter’s API history. As a developer though, this is certainly discouraging, and even further driving me away from Twitter’s developer platform.

I hope I’m wrong. I’ve asked in the Twitter developer forums with no answer yet. Is there another solution I’m missing? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do another post showing how to do it.

Twitter, Two Years Later and Nothing Has Changed

Last year, exactly 1 year yesterday in fact, I wrote an article reminding developers, while venting that we were in a constant state of being at Twitter’s mercy.  In the last year, Twitter has actually improved a lot in regards to stability – they attribute that to Unicorns.  I think it’s because they’ve hired a lot of good people over the last year.  Yet, the core problems of 2 years ago still exist, and you know what – I’m fine with it now.


Check out the interview (again) that Robert Scoble and I (mostly Robert) did with Ev Williams and Biz Stone almost exactly 2 years ago.  This was in response to Alex Payne writing a blog post calling Robert a “whale” and blaming Twitter’s scaling difficulties on that.  At the time I was also very concerned about the developer ecosystem, and that has not changed since.  Robert Scoble since has been replaced by pop-culture icons on Twitter’s suggested user list, and, as one of Twitter’s top promoters and even the top user for quite awhile, he was thrown under the rug by Twitter as well.

Here’s the thing though – as I said in my article yesterday, I have no problem with this.  Twitter is a business.  They have a core technology they need to build, and they’re going to continue building that to compete.  They even had auto follow for awhile – I competed, we provided a better service (and probably even had more users than Twitter using it), and Twitter eventually didn’t see the need to continue supporting it.  They’ve since replaced several other features my business offers.  We’ve continued to compete there as well.  They even asked me to remove specific features because it was not in their core interest.

At first I was dumbfounded at how I was being treated by Twitter.  I even left the service for a short while due to my disappointment.  Then I think I went into denial.  I’d continue making the same mistakes over and over, continuing to release features only to see Twitter replace them.  For some reason after each time I’d still get mad, complain, and the cycle would continue.  It wasn’t until this year that I’ve finally come to terms with all of this.  Yes, I have a service that relies on Twitter.  Yes, I have many features that risk getting replaced by Twitter.  No, I probably will never be acquired by Twitter, nor will any of my competitors.

I’m okay with that though.  I’ve provided some great services to many people and people actually pay for this stuff and like it.  We still provide the best stats of new and lost followers on Twitter.  We have some of the best filters on the planet for Twitter.  We have one of the best auto follow tools on the planet and have upheld our responsibility to keep Twitter clean in the process of doing that.  We’ll continue to improve these features and add new features in the future.  I started it – I can’t just quit until it’s all over and either someone acquires me, or Twitter completely puts me out of business.  I’ve come to complete terms with that, while at the same time I realize I need to come up with a core and move towards that as a focus.

I’ve been saying this over and over again on this blog over the past 2 years.  Twitter isn’t going to change their ways.  They’ll continue to compete.  They’ll continue to add features.  They’ll even buy one of your (or my) competitors.  That’s life.  And I’m okay with that.  I’ve been through this too many times to get mad any more.

One year from now I’m sure I’ll say the exact same thing I said this year, last, and the year before.  Twitter won’t change.  They’re a business, and they have to compete to stay alive.  It’s time we all start innovating, and let Twitter be Twitter.  The complaining, quite honestly, is getting old (I think I invented it).

It’s funny how Twitter gives us this reminder almost the exact same time every year, yet we all seem to think it’s news when it comes around.