A developer and his app leave the Twitter ecosystem due to poor treatment

By July 30, 2011Twitter

I have long been a user of the Topify service which provides email alerts to events on my Twitter account.  My primary use case has been to quickly see who has started following me and to efficiently follow some of them back by simply replying to the Topify email.

Unfortunately the service is being shut down on August 5th.  The email below explains why (highlights mine).


A week ago, without any prior notice, Twitter changed their backend resulting in removing headers from their emails which we used to provide you the Topify service. Once I discovered about this change, I asked on their official developers support forum about it and twice sent a mention to @TwitterAPI account. All of these were unanswered until today. Today they finally posted a clarification:

  • Many of the emails we send have X-Twitter* headers in them, with pieces of information about the event which triggered them. You might have noticed we’ve started decommissioning these headers.

    If for some reason you were using these headers programmatically in order to detect / process events, you should stop doing it and switch to one of the means supported by the API. For example, the Streaming API. Please let us know if you needed help or if you had questions!

(from: https://dev.twitter.com/discussions/708)

I considered switching to using the Streaming API in the past, but the only option for Topify is to use the Site Streams version of it. But Site Streams are still in beta, and according to the documentation there is no estimated date for it to exit beta. Considering this last episode and other actions by Twitter in the past year, I have no desire to expriment with their beta offerings. Not only this can result in unstable service for you, they might just shut it down one day.

If Twitter (or any other company) wants third party developers to leverage their platform then they need to offer as much certainty and predictability as they can.  Without that rational developers will determine that the risk reward equation isn’t good enough and focus their efforts elsewhere, as Topify is now doing.

In this case that is to the detriment of both individual Twitter customers who had been using Topify (like me) and to the ecosystem generally as my levels of engagement will now take a hit.

It is unclear to me at this point whether Twitter really sees itself as a platform company or a consumer focused internet service.  In light of developments like this it feels more and more like the latter, in which case better notification emails and email based interaction with the service would be high on my list of feature requests.

  • You’re spot on with your analysis… hopefully at some point Twitter will realize that too.

  • I just realise that I posted a long comment on Saturday from my iPhone… and now I see it didn’t go through! Argh…
    Will post again later then 🙂

  • Nick, nice post. My take is that Twitter became what it is exactly because it was a platform before it was a service. Hence the incredible proliferation of third party apps, probably never seen before in history. It’s a double ended sword though, because for a while noe the pressure from investors is on monetising this huge amount of information and being *just* a platform didn’t work our financially. So Twitter is buying the TweetDecks, the Tweeties, etc. and it’s protecting it’s own business, forgetting where their fortunes come from (the ecosystem which they are now discouraging).
    Twitter has a significant advantage over any company starting in their space (although history repeats, so let’s not take anything for granted). To a certain extent (and take what I’m about to say with a pinch of salt) Twitter should be taken over by some not-for-profit body which could establish it as a platform, as part of the internet as we know it. But perhaps economic freedom and entrepreneurial spirit will fix the situation without any external intervention, it’s just a matter of time.

  • nic

    Tks Fabio, and sorry for the slow reply. It is relatively easy to understand why Twitter is acting as it is, but a) I think they could be smarter about what they are doing as trashing the ecosystem before they provide equivalent functionality themselves isn’t smart, b) they need to be called out on it so ecosystem partners know where they stand, and c) this highlights the danger of betting a business on a third party platform which isn’t making money yet