Twitter upsets developers again with DM tweak

Ronny Kerr · May 18, 2011 · Short URL:

Latest permissions update is great for users, but developers aren't happy with the technical details

Twitter just announced Wednesday afternoon some API changes that gives users more oversight when granting third-party applications access to their account, but it’s already proving to be a headache for developers of those apps.

Going forward, third-party applications that need access to your direct messages (DMs) will have to ask for permission again, according to a blog post penned by Jodi Olson, head of PR for the Twitter platform. By the end of the month, any apps that don’t need access will automatically have it revoked.

Additionally, whenever users are about to grant a third-party application access to their account, Twitter will detail to the user exactly what information the app is requesting: from the timeline to followers to direct messages, and everything in between.

Sounds gravy, right?

Not according to responses in this Google Groups discussion of the changes.

In line with the changes described above, Twitter has also told developers that “only applications which direct a user through the OAuth web flow will be able to receive access tokens that allow access to direct messages. Any other method of authorization, including xAuth, will only be able to receive Read/Write tokens.”

In other words, developers whose clients currently use xAuth have a little less than two weeks to integrate OAuth flow instead, if they want their users to still be able to access direct messages.

Here’s a sampling of the first few responses from developers, bolding added by us:

“The new permissions level is welcomed by me and a good idea. Removing the ability for xAuth to access DMs is insanity, pure and simple. I presume your iOS and Mac clients will be switching off xAuth access as well then?” (Rich)

“In the past, I've seen several occurrences where popular clients weren't affected by the rules. Will we yet again see this, or will there not be an exception for those clients? The same question goes for Twitter's own apps: will they make the switch to OAuth, or will they keep using xAuth?” (Tom van der Woerdt)

“This is such a short timeframe for people to rebuild, QA and resubmit their apps that it will certainly mean some peoples apps will stop working while they are waiting for them to be 'approved' by their own QA, or their internal IT department, or their app store or market. I would request that you think about extending it. (@nuxnix)

“can you please give us more time to adapt to this. It is impossible to make the appropriate changes and submit to appstore within this timeframe.” (janole)

That is a HUGE and MAJOR headache for existing apps and their thousands of users who are currently using any of the /1/direct_messages methods.“ (Dewald Pretorius)

Yikes. Not quite a warm reception.

Twitter hasn't been very good at making developers happy lately. The last major example was the company's decree a few months ago that developers stop making clients mimicking the microblogging site's basic functionality; with official applications like Twitter for Mac and Twitter for iPhone becoming readily available, it's clear that the company wants to rule that market all by itself.

Then there was the whole UberMedia fiasco in February.

We’ve reached out to Olson to gather Twitter’s response, and she tells me a response from Developer Advocate Matt Harris is forthcoming.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.