Twitter Caps API Calls

Last night, Twitter quietly pushed an email to its various third party application developers informing them of a new API call limit.  In other words, applications that access Twitter’s servers in order to push data to their users will now be limited to the number of times they can do so from a single IP address per hour; 20,000 times to be exact.

20,000 calls may seem like a lot but some application builders are up-in-arms about the new limit.  SocialToo, which accesses Twitter’s API to provide users with notifications when users un-follow them (along with various other services) says the new cap is a poor way of making up for a bad API.

“In order to retrieve a list of a user’s followers, the Twitter API currently requires any developer to go through the follower list, 100 people at a time, no matter how large the following is. So, for instance, for Guy Kawasaki, we have to traverse through over 350 pages of followers in order to get his entire list and determine if anyone new followed him, or stopped following him.  That’s 350 requests just to get his list of followers – that doesn’t include the requests we have to make to follow each new follower.”  — SocialToo Blog

So according to SocialToo, this new cap hurts applications that are making requests for list of followers, a problem that could be fixed by changing the API.  But according to them, Twitter has no intention of upgrading the API to accommodate these requests.

So why is Twitter doing this anyway?  In a great post, Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb included this response to this very question from Alex Payne, who is in charge of Twitter’s API.

“We picked the 20,000 requests per hour number precisely because it effects the fewest applications (less than ten of the hosts we see in our hourly report of high-traffic consumers of our site)… The fact that 100% Twitter-powered companies like StockTwits are getting funding and expanding in popularity suggests that the Twitter API is meeting the needs of successful, growing businesses today.”  — Payne, via ReadWriteWeb

Kirkpatrick raises some interesting questions about this new limited use of Twitter’s data.  While the cap won’t affect the larger applications (mainly because they ping the API from multiple IP addresses), it prevents the smaller grassroots apps from gaining a foothold without springing for more IP addresses.  And in the case of SocialToo, they can’t simply buy more IP addresses because they max out the limit querying any user with more than 1,000 followers.

Stan Schroeder over at Mashable points out that enforcing a cap like this is going to turn off third party app developers from building on the Twitter platform.  If Facebook and FriendFeed have no API limits, why would a developer want to build on Twitter? Additionally, he warns of the risks that come from building on another app’s API.

“Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Digg or any other web service that provides a public API, creators of third party applications are always at risk that their efforts will simply be erased by some unpredictable move on the part of the company that controls the API.”  — Mashable

The other issue to be raised is how this API cap could be related to Twitter’s plan to monetize itself.  Having just recently hired it’s first employee to be the “financial guy”, we know this is on Twitter’s agenda.  SocialToo claims it would love if Twitter would charge applications for more access to its API, so could this be one way Twitter plans to make money?  If they don’t plan to change their API to suit a more effective quereying of their data, it only seems logical that they would offer more calls as a premium service.

This could end up being detrimental to Twitter’s success, or it could have little or no effect.  A lot of Twitter’s popularity comes from its simplicity within itself, but some does also stem from its expandability with third party apps.  This could be the end of “un-follow” notification services, and any other service that requires numerous API calls, or any service without multiple IP’s.


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