Better Off Dead

If you paid for a Twitter client after August 2012, it's time to accept that you might eventually lose your $2

Talk Mobile 2013It's time to start facing the long, hard facts, folks. The writing has been on the wall for some 10 months now -- since Twitter announced the API v1.1 changes that would significantly change things for developers of third-party clients, essentially putting a hard cap of 100,000 new user tokens. (Twitter said "you'll need our permission if your application will require more than 100,000 individual user tokens," but it doesn't sound like it's granted that to any of the apps we use.)

Since that announcement last fall, we saw Tweet Lanes (and others) all but shut down. (Update: Yes, we understand Tweet Lanes went open-source.) Falcon Pro debuted in November with that 100,000-token limit held over its head, and it ran into that wall in February 2013. A new version was released a few days later, requiring users to buy it sign in again -- and pay about a dollar more if buying for the first time -- and starting that vicious cycle once more.

This week, Twitter shut it down. Regular users are pissed. The folks in the newly formed Falcon Pro beta community are pissed. It's not fair to users. But neither should it be unexpected.

Think of Twitter like a franchise of custom swimming pools. Oh, anyone can put one in (though it has tightened that up a bit). But Twitter owns the lining. We might all be contributing water to fill it, but Twitter still owns that, too. And API v1.1 puts strict controls on how many people are allowed in the pool for as long as you have it. Theoretically, once you hit 100,001 paying customers, that's it. No more. 

Is there wiggle room? Loopholes? Maybe. But this week we saw what happened when you build yourself a second pool, right next door to your first one, and invite everyone to come on in -- the water's fine. Falcon Pro hit the 100,000 limit again and kicked everyone out of the pool -- requiring them to log back in if they want to go swimming. As I wrote on Google+ at the time, that might be a fine workaround but it's not good user experience -- and, as we found out just two days later, it's definitely not sustainable.

I'm not well-versed enough in the API rules to say Falcon Pro violated the letter of the law, but certainly it was pushing the spirit of it a bit. For those of us who paid for Falcon Pro -- and I'm one of them -- that sucks. It's not fair to the users. Did Falcon Pro handle things the right way? I don't know. I'm not sure there is a good answer. It's certainly not easy on the developers. In fact, I've questioned whether any developer in their right mind should be involved with Twitter at this point -- at some point I figure we'll all be forced to use the "official" Twitter app. The good news is it's slowly getting better -- but I'd rather have the choice to use a different app.

We've talked a bit this week in Talk Mobile 2013 about what happens when our favorite apps die, for whatever reason. In the case of Twitter, the service isn't going anywhere. Millions use it, and Twitter's slowly, methodically inserting itself ever deeper in our daily lives. But if you shell out $2 for the hot new Twitter app, you're essentially gambling with your money. Falcon Pro won't be the last app to go toe to toe with Twitter and lose.