What $100 Per Month for Twitter’s API Can Mean to Developers
Controversy aside, Twitter’s decision to no longer offer free access to its Twitter API could create great opportunities for developers seeking a more robust and secure platform from the social media giant. However, the operative word is could, since a lot of investment and well-managed engineering talent — and a well-executed business plan — are required for the platform to deliver. How this all plays out thus remains to be seen.
“They are playing a balancing act with their future. This has to be successful because if done wrong, it could bury the platform,” Erik Nord, API practice lead at Axway, which offers an API management platform and Managed File Transfer (MFT) and B2B/EDI solutions, said in an email response to The New Stack’s questions.
“Google did this a couple years back. When they started to monetize certain APIs, such as Google Maps, they were able to do it successfully and turn it into a viable business model.”
‘A New Form of Free Access’
Before covering what the implications of Twitter’s move might be for developers, there have been some recent developments about Twitter’s plans. The company disclosed through a Twitter thread more details about its plans:
- Twitter said it will charge $100 per month for “low level of API usage and access to its Ads API, confirming the estimated price tag Elon Musk quoted in a Tweet February 2.
A new form of free access will be introduced as this is extremely important to our ecosystem – limited to Tweet creation of up to 1,500 Tweets per month for a single authenticated user token, including Login with Twitter.
— Twitter Dev (@TwitterDev) February 8, 2023
- The company would offer what it called a “new form of free access,” limiting the creation of 1,500 Tweets per month for a single authenticated user token, “including Login with Twitter.”
- It plans to “deprecate” the Premium API, although it is possible to apply for the Enterprise version to “continue using these endpoints.”
- Twitter said it would extend free access to its API through February 13 (however, when the API was accessed before that date, a login was required).
Trading Better Tooling for Easy Access?
As mentioned previously, a more structured offering could potentially provide improved support for the commercialization of the API. This could be a boon to fun-to-use applications that use Twitter data and the API, such as RemindMe_OfThis, even ranging to large bank customers that might mine Twitter data for consumer data.
“Twitter’s recent announcement to end its free access to its API has ruffled some feathers. While some see this as a missed opportunity, I see it differently: In exchange for better tooling, Twitter has made a strategic move to empower its developer community with better support and more value,” said Vince Padua, chief innovation and technology officer at Axway.
“This move should help developers build even more successful and sustainable businesses by offering new and improved tools, resources and programs. Moreover, it is good to see that Twitter is committed to ensuring a smooth transition and minimizing disruption. Twitter states that it will work with its current API partners to ensure a seamless experience and help them capitalize on this change’s new opportunities.”
Among the business risks Twitter faces include not being able to be proactive about API dependencies and consumption, said Brian Otten, vice president of digital transformation catalysts at Axway.
What should not happen is “suddenly deprecating old versions without advance warning because they don’t have insight into API consumer dependencies and consumption, or having their API consumers incurring annoying overage fees that essentially penalize them for successful adoption,” Otten said.
“Metrics to track include loss of business due to consumers looking elsewhere for the same data and information, or quantifying and identifying cross-sell opportunities to higher-value API plans because Twitter can see the insights on consumption and act in advance.”
Security Against Bad Bots
Through tweets, Musk vociferously described what he called a menace of bad-actor bots and bad-actor users due to free access to Twitter data through the API:
Yeah, free API is being abused badly right now by bot scammers & opinion manipulators. There’s no verification process or cost, so easy to spin up 100k bots to do bad things.
Just ~$100/month for API access with ID verification will clean things up greatly.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 2, 2023
Indeed, there is a long list of security concerns that Twitter has posed. In January, an attempted ransomware attack emerged, originating from exploiting a zero-day API vulnerability; during the episode, threats were made to release 235 million records of Twitter users.
“I absolutely agree that the free use of the Twitter API has led to lots of abuse through spam bots, shady companies offering to optimize your profile, and lots of other little automations that have led to a very unfavorable signal-to-noise ratio throughout Twitter’s lifespan,” Torsten Volk, an analyst for Enterprise Management Associates, told The New Stack.
“But if Twitter wants to start charging for different tiers of API access, they will need to revamp quite a bit of their backend and they need to be careful to not create incentives for abuse.”
“The idea is that if API consumers have to pay to play, they will need to cough up money and go through some level of verification in that process, which could add a layer of protection from bots and most malicious API consumers,” Rago said. “Musk himself even tweeted to this point yesterday, stating the move will stop bot abuse of the Twitter API.”
The Karma Factor
Twitter’s move to monetize access to its API is reflective of a very early battle among Twitter stakeholders. The conflict was between those seeking to offer a free experience for developers and other users and those who have looked to emphasize a more closed model with more paid access to data and functionalities, according to William Morgan, CEO and co-founder of service mesh provider Buoyant, who was among Twitter’s first 200 employees after its 2006 founding.
“Shortly before I joined, there was a big schism in the company between people who wanted to make Twitter an open platform that was accessible by anyone who could write content to anyone who could read content, as a more idealistic effort,” Morgan said. “There was a schism between that camp and then the camp that wanted to present Twitter not as an open platform, but to treat it as a product. The product camp was the one that won out.”
Today, Twitter’s decision to charge for access to its previously free API could be part of a more product-oriented philosophy initiated by Musk, as a way to generate more revenue in previously unexploited ways, or both.
“I wonder if this is revisiting how, if Twitter wants to loosen its grip that advertisers have on their platform, and if that is the case, then they have to find other ways of making money from the platform,” Morgan said. “I also don’t know if it’s a larger strategic thing. Or it might just be how Elon operates — the cafeterias famously are not free to employees and you have to pay for your hamburgers.”