Apps of a Feather
…Stick Together

The Problem

After August 16th, 2018, “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. This means two things for third-party apps:

  1. Push notifications will no longer arrive
  2. Timelines won’t refresh automatically

If you use an app like Talon, Tweetbot, Tweetings, or Twitterrific, there is no way for its developer to fix these issues.

We are incredibly eager to update our apps. However, despite many requests, Twitter has not provided a viable way for us to recreate the lost functionality. We’ve been waiting for more than a year and have had one reprieve.

Who’s Affected?

This change affects people who use third-party Twitter apps. All software platforms are affected, but it’s worse on iOS and Android where users rely on push notifications to know when something happens on Twitter.

What’s Changing?

Third-party apps open a network connection to Twitter and receive a continuous stream of updates (hence the name). For push notifications, this connection is done on the developer’s server and used to generate messages that are sent to your devices. For timeline updates, the stream is opened directly on your mobile device or desktop computer.

This streaming connection is being replaced by an Account Activity API. This new infrastructure is based on “webhooks” that Twitter uses to contact your server when there’s activity for an account. But there are problems for app developers…

Why Can’t You Fix It?

The new Account Activity API is available to all developers, but still presents problems for third-party apps.

The free API allows us to implement some push notifications, but they would be limited to 15 Twitter accounts – our products must deliver notifications to hundreds of thousands of customers. Pricing for Premium access is $2,899 per month for 250 users. To cover this cost, a third-party app would need to charge over $16 per month to break even. We have inquired about Enterprise pricing and hope that provides an affordable option.

Automatic refresh of your timeline just won’t work because the mechanism Twitter uses isn’t compatible with apps on your mobile device or desktop computer (it’s designed for web servers.) Since updating your timeline with other methods is rate-limited by Twitter, you will see delays in real-time updates during sporting events and breaking news.

These issues will result in workarounds that compromise the user experience or cause a developer to remove a feature completely.

Why is Twitter Doing This?

A recent statement by Twitter sheds some light on this situation. In response to a query about the new Bookmarks feature they said:

… as we stated on the blog nearly a year ago, the API plans are focused on data features and access, more than on delivering client app product features.

Push notifications and automatic timeline updates are both client app features.

Despite a long history of third-party contributions to the Twitter ecosystem, the company continues to actively discourage “client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.” Including platforms where there is no native app.

How Can I Help?

As third-party developers, our hands are tied. However, you can help by letting Twitter know how you feel:

Many folks don’t realize that their favorite Twitter app is about to break, so awareness is the first step. Together, we may be able to get Twitter to constructively address this state of affairs before the August deadline.

Thank you.

May 16th, 2018: Updated site with new information about the Account Activity API and pricing.

Talon Tweetbot Tweetings Twitterrific