Why Twitter’s Third-Party App Ban Is Terrible for Users

And for businesses. And for Twitter

  • Twitter has banned many third-party apps from accessing its service. 
  • Users of these apps might be Twitter's best users. 
  • Third-party developers invented retweets, hashtags, the blue bird logo, and even the word "tweet."
Someone holding a smartphone showing inaccessible third-party Twitter app messages.

Mockup Photos / Stocksnap

Twitter has banned third-party apps like Tweetbot and Twitterific, plus many others, which is equally bad for everyone involved. 

There are several ways to read Twitter. One is in the browser at twitter.com. Another is to use the official Twitter app, which includes all the latest Twitter features, ads, and tracking tech. But many people also use—or used—independently-developed apps to read and tweet. These people, it could be argued, are Twitter's most engaged users, willing to buy an app to do something they could otherwise do for free. And now we've been cut off

"An absolute kick in the teeth to all the indie devs who worked so hard to make Twitter a better experience for so many. Twitterrific was officially discontinued today and pulled off the App Store after 16 years of development. Among other firsts, they first used 'tweet' to describe an update, first used a bird icon, and were the first native client on iPhone and Mac," Andy Baio, a media observer, wrote on Mastodon

Ban Hammer

We won’t dwell on how the ban happened, but the short story is that several prominent Twitter apps just stopped working, with no announcement from Twitter nor any replies to queries from the developers of those apps. Only the following week did Twitter finally make the ban official, claiming that these apps had breached the terms of service for accessing the Twitter API (the tools apps use to interact with Twitter’s back end).

The twist? The apps had not broken any rules. Twitter had just altered its terms of service to make it seem that way

The average user may not notice much difference, but businesses and agencies running branded Twitter accounts certainly will.

But why did Twitter do this? The most obvious answer is that most of these apps didn’t show ads, so Twitter made no money from them. But really, how many people were paying for Twitter apps when they could use the official one for free? Thinking about this would have told Twitter’s owner that anyone willing to pay for an app might also be willing to pay Twitter a subscription to keep using third-party apps. 

The idea that somehow the third-party app ecosystem is leaching off Twitter is absurd. Twitter is not like Netflix or Spotify, where users just passively watch. Twitter’s entire product is the combined creation of its millions of users. Twitter itself creates nothing. And how much would you bet those app users are also the most engaged in posting tweets?

Bad for Business

The ban on third-party apps is also bad for businesses. Those apps aren't just for giving you a nicer experience on your timeline. There are also plenty of utility apps. 

"The average user may not notice much difference, but businesses and agencies running branded Twitter accounts certainly will. When you work in social media, you often depend on third-party tools like Hootsuite and Tweetbot to schedule posts. This is especially useful when you're in charge of multiple accounts across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc." Lena Grundhoefer, co-founder and CEO of the Zeitg3iste marketing and social media agency, told Lifewire via email. 

Large publications also use tools based on Twitter's API to post their stories. While it's unlikely that Twitter will cut those off too, who knows at this point? The uncertainty is worse in business terms because you cannot rely on a platform when it's so unpredictable. 

Closeup on a tablet device with the Twitter app shown on the screen.

Souvik Banerjee / Unsplash

Bad Form

Really, though, this is just another example of Twitter's bad form. Recently, it has been clear that users, and now developers, are not the priority. And that's what's driving us all away. 

The worst part is developers and users invented much of what we now know as essentials of the Twitter experience. There was no "retweeting." Users just used to copy and paste a tweet they liked with "RT:" in front of it. The same with hashtags and @replies. Both of these rose organically, and Twitter incorporated them. 

Even the Twitter bird logo, Larry, was copied from—you guessed it—third-party Twitter app Twitterific by Iconfactory. And Twitterific—one of the now-banned apps—also coined the term "tweet."

This might not be the worst thing that has happened to Twitter in the past few months, but it is the thing that signals the end of Twitter as a platform instead of just another social app. The good news is that some of these developers are now working on equally great apps for Mastodon.

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