20th January 2023
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6 mins

I joined Twitter in 2009. It was still a fairly new and upcoming platform, and not quite the permanent fixture on the web that it is now. Features like mentions and hashtags already existed at that point, but native retweets were yet to be implemented, and image uploads had to go through a service like TwitPic.

Twitter didn't have a native mobile app back then, but several 3rd party apps were made.

Twitterrific was the first iOS Twitter client, and is credited with inventing (or at least popularising) the phrase "tweet", and creating the now famous blue bird icon. Tweetie was one of the most popular Twitter clients, with a clean UI for the time, and it was the first app to feature the pull to refresh gesture now commonplace in most apps. It was later acquired by Twitter to become its native app. TweetDeck was another hugely popular app with a more edgy design, and a column-based web view to have multiple feeds of tweets at once. TweetDeck was also acquired by Twitter, and is still available in its web form today. As a slightly later entry, Tweetbot arrived with a much more modern UI that only got better over time, and a rich feature set, becoming the standout Twitter client.

While 3rd party Twitter apps had limited API access and couldn't replicate all the features of the official app and website, they offered power users a much more focussed Twitter experience. No ads, no algorithmic timeline, no random tweets from people you didn't follow that someone else had liked or replied to. They offered a much more refined and pure Twitter experience.

Or at least, they used to. As of the 19th of January 2023, 3rd party Twitter clients are officially dead.

On the 13th of January, I tweeted about my 14 year anniversary of using Twitter:

How apt this assessment would turn out to be.

Later that day I found out that the previous night, various large 3rd party Twitter apps including Twitterrific and Tweetbot had suddenly stopped working. Their API keys had been revoked without any notice or any communication from Twitter at all.

Eventually, Twitter broke their silence on the issue.

After 5 days of uncertainty, their first acknowledgement of the issue was an incredibly vague and poorly written suggestion that these apps (that had been running for years) had somehow broken a rule. Although, nobody was really sure what these rules were. 3rd party Twitter apps had already been limited to 100,000 API authorisations for several years, but there had been no changes to this policy.

Eventually, on the 19th of January, Twitter quietly updated their developer terms and conditions to outright ban 3rd party clients. And just like that, after 16 years, it was over. The end of an era.

The writing may have been on the wall when Elon Musk saddled himself with huge debt to buy Twitter (which was already losing money), and following the vast mass layoffs and exodus of advertisers. With his plans for Twitter 2.0 he wouldn't want to have to ensure 3rd party clients would have compatible APIs, and every user using a 3rd party client was a user not seeing ads in their Twitter feed. Not to mention the fact that anyone who tried these apps knew they were better than the official app, and always had been. But that's not the problem here. If the days of 3rd party clients were numbered, did it really have to go down like this?

Twitter could have decided to ban 3rd party apps, but given the developers 30 days notice to let users know and wind things up. People would have been sad, it would have been a shame, but it's one of those things that people probably would have expected would happen one day, Musk takeover or not. But instead, they made the conscious decision not to do that, and to just pull the plug. No notice. No communication. And according to Twitterrific, there was even hostility.

And so it came to be. 3rd party Twitter apps were dead, and they signed off for the last time.

The Verge also wrote a good article on subject: The third-party apps Twitter just killed made the site what it is today

It's such a disappointing way to treat the people that helped make Twitter what it was in its early days. Without 3rd party apps, Twitter may never have become what it was today. It's a cowardly way to handle the situation. Thousands of hours had gone into these apps, Tweetbot had even released a major update only the day before the API access was pulled, and it was all for nothing. In the early days I switched between Tweetie and TweetDeck, but as soon as Tweetbot was released I switched and never looked back. I used it from the day it launched until the day it died. I will miss is a lot.

These apps, the developers that made them and the users that used them, all deserved better than this.

Fuck Space Karen.

It's been a few weeks since the death of Tweetbot, with the official Twitter app taking the spot on my home screen that Tweetbot had occupied for the last decade.

I'm well used to using the Twitter website, as despite Tweetbot having a macOS desktop app for several years, I'd grown more to using the website as it was easier to switch to. So I have been familiar with Twitter's current design for some time.

The official Twitter app is... fine. It doesn't have any missing functionality, like being able to bookmark tweets, or when brands would post through advertising platforms meaning links and images wouldn't show up in tweets in 3rd party apps. And, perhaps controversially, I don't completely hate the "For You" algorithmic timeline, especially as it's easier to switch back to the regular chronological feed.

But overall, the app feels cluttered. It's too easy to accidentally tap the Retweet or Like icons, there's too much packed on the screen, and the ads are too large and too frequent.

I will get used to it, as everyone who used 3rd party clients will over time (assuming they haven't just stopped using it altogether), but I will always miss Tweetbot.

I've seen a lot of people questioning if people even used 3rd party apps (yes, they did), and saying that no other social media platform allows 3rd party apps. But that's not the point. They may not exist with other platforms, but they always had with Twitter, and it had been better for it. These apps made Twitter the platform it is today, and by killing them off Twitter not only lost something special and unique, but forgot where it came from. I can't help but feel that more and more of what made Twitter special will sadly be lost in time.