This morning dawned on a new future for the Twitter platform and its developers. The Terms of Service (ToS) for use of the API (application programming interface) is going to change to state that advertising can no longer be injected into a user’s timeline.
Companies such as Ad.ly, Magpie and Sponsored Tweets and others have popped up around the Twitter platform that would allow users to sell Tweets, the nickname for the messages on the service, to third-party advertisers. These would be injected into the user’s Twitter stream for all of their followers to see, and would usually be marked in such a way as having the hashtag of “#ad” placed on them. The amount of money each user would make from these ads depended on how many followers the person had, but it is known that some celebrities were making thousands of dollars for each ad they ran.
On the Twitter blog this morning, all of this has come to a screeching halt. The ToS for the API is being updated to reflect that third-parties are no longer allowed to inject advertising into a user’s timeline. The only advertising that will be allowed inside of a Tweet from here on out will be the company’s own Promoted Tweets which is essentially a company paying for a message from its own timeline to show up at the top of the results in a search for a term related to that company. (i.e. search for “coffee”, and you may see a Starbucks ad show up)
Twitter did say that there would be business opportunities in its upcoming Annotations tool which allows more data to be packed into a Tweet, but that new system is not yet ready to be rolled out.
The micro-blogging service really does appear to have a love/hate relationship with its development community. As I theorized earlier this month, I’m not even sure developers should continue to work on applications at this point. Between releasing its own official mobile applications, and now cutting off the advertising companies, it makes you wonder what exactly Twitter wants its developers to do with the API.
Twitter let the genie out of the bottle with its API, and developers flocked to it due to the popularity of the service. Now the company is sitting back and realizing that things are being done with its platform that they don’t approve of, or that they feel they should just be doing it themselves. They mentioned at the recent Chirp developer conference that developers shouldn’t be trying to plug perceived holes in the service, but instead innovating. Suddenly Twitter has become your kindergarten art teacher telling you that your finger painting doesn’t break any new ground, so you need to go try again until you come up with a masterpiece no one has ever seen before.
It is easy enough for Twitter to stand up at any moment and say, “Nope, no more of this.” and a developer’s business just disappears over night. This is what exactly has happened with these third-party advertising platforms. It remains to be seen if the companies will be able to hold out for the annotations feature, or if they will just close up shop, but it does appear with the mere stroke of a virtual pen to the ToS, Twitter has more than likely just put some people out of work.
And the thing is? They are perfectly within their rights to do so. Twitter is, after all, their playground, they just choose to let you play there. If you start playing to “rough”, they have every right to send you to bed without supper. Does it make it morally or ethically right, though? Well, that is up to each individual to make their own call.
As for me, I say good riddance to the ads. While I sold my profile background image a few times, I never felt comfortable with the idea of injecting ads into my actual timeline. It always felt to me like if you were standing with someone in a bar, having a nice conversation, and they suddenly would turn to all of the patrons and shout, “WIN A FREE IPOD FROM WACKYWATERWAFTERS.COM FOR FILLING OUT A SURVEY! #ad”, and then returned to talking to you like nothing had just happened.
What say you? Was Twitter right in banning third-party ads from user’s timelines?