Twitter goes full douchebag

Twitter is to block most third-party apps, which don't comply with their strict rules on access.

We've written, at length, on Twitter's attempts to safeguard the profitability of its network against all-comers, so this shouldn't come as any surprise: the company has confirmed that, from March 2013, they will begin enforcing a de facto ban on third-party apps.

The ban is revealed in two passages in a post to developers by Twitter's director of consumer content, Michael Sippey. The first tells developers that the company's "display guidelines" will become "display requirements", while the second explains that from now on, any service with more than one million users will need special permission from Twitter to continue growing.

The display requirements are an incredibly strict set of requirements which not only hit their intended target, third-party consumer clients like Tweetbot, Econfon or Ubersocial, but also a huge number of unintended ones – Jason Kottke says that his aggregation site Stellar meets just four of the 16 requirements, while Marco Arment, developer of the popular Instapaper reading app, thinks that his "liked by friends" feature will have to be pulled, or at least rewritten, to comply.

Other rules look likely to hit services like Flipboard (which breaks 5.a., "tweets that are grouped together into a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks") and Storify and Favstar (which break 3.b., "no other social or 3rd party actions may be attached to a Tweet"). Or they would, had Twitter not clarified that actually, those latter two are the "good" apps. Ryan Sarver, the company's director of platform, tweeted that they are what they want in the ecosystem.

This ought to be good news - two of the most useful third party apps are safe - but in fact, it's even more upsetting. It shows that, from the off, Twitter's rules all contain an implicit "...but you can ignore these if we like you." If that is the case, it's not hard to imagine that they also contain an implicit "...and no matter how well you follow these, if we don't like you, you're off the service." Everything using the network does so at the capricious whim of its overlords.

The million user limit is even more indiscriminately applied. Any application, no matter what it does or how well it complies with the published rules, needs to "work with [Twitter] directly" to get more users than that. It is, essentially, a rule that gives the company carte blanch to pick and choose whether any company getting too big can be allowed to grow.

Most companies try to keep customers by keeping customers happy. Twitter is clear in its intentions: it wants to keep customers by making it extraordinarily difficult for them to leave. It is holding its network hostage; you can go, but you can't take your friends with you.

In July, when Twitter first acted on their intentions to block clients which "mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience" I wrote that:

That is bad enough for the company, but up to now, the users of those apps are a minority on the service. The vast majority of twitterers use the website itself, or one of the official clients on mobile devices.

But with these changes, Twitter hasn't just hit the apps used by a small (nerdy) minority of users. There are going to be very few Twitter users who aren't affected in some way or another by this attempt to turn the site into a Facebook-style walled garden.

Ben Brooks, author of the Brooks Review, sums up the news:

We like to make analogies to Apple in tech blogging circles, so here goes: this is the moment in Twitter’s life where they kicked Steve Jobs out of the company and told Sculley to run it.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Twitter is rolling out (slightly) longer tweets

Plus the demise of the dot-at. 

We've heard rumblings for a while that Twitter plans to move away from its simple USP (140 characters per tweet, a list of chronological tweets on your timeline) in favour of a more curated, less restrictive model. 

Today, the site announced changes that will reduce the limits on tweet length, but not in an extreme way – rumours that the site planned to kill off the character limit entirely seem unfounded, at least for now. Instead, usernames and media attachments like links, polls or images will no longer be included in the limit, which will come as a relief to anyone with a long handle or media brands (naming no names) which often tweet links. The company says the changes will roll out over the "next several months".  

This probably doesn't mean you'll be able to have a poll, a picture and a Periscope livestream in a single tweet, but it does mean you could potentially @ in unlimited numbers of people. For anyone who has been harassed on the site, this isn't great news - at least in the past trolls' audiences were limited by tweet length.  

The site is also killing off ".@": the method used by users who want replies or direct addressals to be seen by all their followers. At the moment, any tweet starting with an "@" doesn't feed onto the main timeline, and can only be seen by selecting "tweets and replies" on a specific user's profile.

In future, Twitter will recognise which tweets are actually replies and hide them, but non-replies which start with an "@" will still display in feeds. You'll also be able to retweet yourself, or quote your own tweets, so you can make replies appear on your followers' feeds if desired. The press release also toe-curlingly suggests that you could use this function for when you "feel like a really good one went unnoticed". 

The move suggests Twitter wants users to post media-filled tweets, and doesn't want to punish those that do with decreased space for a message. The social media site recently brought live-streaming app Periscope, which will also beneift from the change.

The company explains in the press release that the original 140 character limit, based on the length of a text message, is a little out of date. Now, apparently, tweets have become a "rich canvas for creative expression". You heard them - go forth and Periscope. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.