The Twitter Saga – Episode ‘Uh, I Lost Count’

On the night of January 12th, 2023, Twitter removed API access for several popular third-party Twitter clients, including my personal favourite: Tweetbot. For those who don’t know, Tweetbot has been the primary way I’ve accessed and used Twitter since December 2019 – and has been an indispensible tool for staying connected to my friends and for networking with my fellow journalists. It has also been a way to avoid the changes Elon Musk (from henceforth to be referred to in this post, and any future posts as “Space Karen”) has made to the Twitter website as a whole that have made it basically impossible to use.

But this isn’t breaking news: the stock Twitter app has always been poorly designed, and Musk’s changes have only made it worse (and haven’t really been well-received, either). View counts, the for you/following tab change (with no way to set a default view), Twitter Blueverification badge changes, etc. (Twitter Blue, in fact, can very easily be described as a cash grab, considering how much debt the company has, its refusal to pay rent, and how much Space Karen bought it for…)

Unfortunately for Space Karen, if this ousting of clients was in fact intentional, he may have just killed a massive part of his newfound business by moving in this direction. Several companies use third-party apps to handle customer service and manage their social media presences, and word on the street is those are next. And that would suck even more for Space Karen. But, as he has done through every step of his takeover, he has repeatedly chosen to learn the hard way.

The consequences won’t be felt by him for a while, but they will be felt eventually. I can assure you of that.

I saw folks ask if this was a way for him to serve more ads. But the truth is, there’s only a small percentage of users who use third-party clients. And the API does more than simply power those. Space Karen doing this actually puts more of a strain on his business, because API access for a large number of requests to certain endpoints are paid. In other words, they’re making his business money. And that’s not even to mention the businesses who use tools like Sprinklr or Sprout Social to manage their social media accounts.

(An interesting note to add here in the break: The people I met who also used third-party clients like Quinn Nelson of Snazzy Labs literally could not see their own mentions without doing so. And I’m one of those people, too!)

To be honest with you all, I’ve been watching this whole thing unfold for a while now, and I think this might be the lullaby for Twitter. While the users using these clients were very little in size, in the grand scheme of things, it will represent a massive shift. The clients were being built by companies, and naturally, the users who have been ousted by using an app they enjoy from a company they enjoy will move on to support them in their other endeavours.

For instance, the brilliant minds behind Tweetbot – Tapbots – are making a new client for Mastodon called Ivory that is easily described as Tweetbot: Mastodon Edition. (It’s quite good and getting even better with each build!) I’ve already seen a lot of support going towards Tapbots, and I can confidentally say a decent amount of people will follow them off Twitter to go support it. And I bet even folks who didn’t use Tweetbot, but feel bad for the position Space Karen has thrown these developers into, will go subscribe to Ivory or another app to support Tapbots or whoever else is affected, respectively.

The lack of communication on this change has, understandably, made developers (affected or not) feel like they aren’t respected by Twitter. Myself included, as I have an application called Watchtower (from back when I was developing that as a fork of the TwidereX codebase), that is now effectively bricked. It shows as “Suspended” in the dashboard, with a statement claiming it has violated some rules with an email having been sent to me with more info. (Readers, this email has not shown up, and I’m not sure if others have gotten an email either.)

And frankly, fellow developers, I think this move – the “pull the plug and act like nothing happened” strategy – demonstrates just how little we are respected by Elon and the remaining Twitter Dev team. But you’re welcome to your own opinions and speculation here, of course…

Altogether, Space Karen has inadvertently created a second Twitter exodus. This time, both all the people who hate the stock app that has been given massive, mostly unwanted updates he has touted as “the best thing since sliced bread,” and the people who want to support the businesses he damaged by shutting down API access to the clients… you know, just the ones that were giving Twitter the little amount of life it had left.

As for where I stand? Well, the eagle-eyed among you have gotten in touch to ask me why my account is private, and I figured I’d address that here. When the situation began Thursday night, I privated my account and uninstalled the app from my phone. At least for now, I will be honouring what I’d said I’d do a month ago, and am stepping back from Twitter. I might unprivate my account once I publish this blog post to Blo(n)g(er), just so anyone who follows a link can actually see what’s going on. I may come back, I may not, so it’s not goodbye: it’s just see you later.

Instead of dunking on Space Karen with everyone else, as easy as it is to do (yay, herd mentality!), I will be focusing my efforts on making the open web better for everyone. Mastodon/the fediverse will be my new, primary home for the foreseeable future. I run my own instance of that and it’s been a source of joy for me, exploring a technology that’s relatively new in the grand scheme of the internet. I’d like to continue fueling joy instead of anxiety and doomscrolling; and hopefully someday, if at all possible, heal my relationship with Twitter.

For those who’d like to come with me:

Til then…

– Slade
P.S. Rest in peace, Twitter of yore. The fediverse will take it from here. 

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