Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Twitter wants to improve its relationship with developers … yet again.
Today, the company announced that it plans to make significant changes to its API — the software developers use to create services that work with Twitter — and that it’s opening a new “Developer Labs” program for app makers to test-drive some of its new updates ahead of time. Twitter is now taking applications for the program, which will be open to any registered developer who wants to join.
The move amounts to a “major shift in strategy” for Twitter’s developer platform, according to the company’s product manager for Twitter’s developer platform, Ian Cairns. Practically, this means that yes, there will be more changes to Twitter’s developer platform. But for Twitter, which has struggled to win over developers for years, it’s also a new opportunity to show them it does actually care about what they think (even if it feels like the millionth time the company is attempting to turn over a new leaf).
“This is a way before we commit to the longterm plans for the API to really test new ideas and get feedback early and often from the people who use our API the most,” said Cairns, who compares the shift to the beta version of the Twitter app the company has been testing.
That in itself is significant when you consider the company’s past. To say Twitter has had a complicated relationship with developers is more than an understatement. The company gained the reputation early on its history, when it kneecapped developers who had gained popularity by building features not natively supported in Twitter, like photo-sharing, and for enforcing some of its policies unevenly.
Then, in 2015, Jack Dorsey took the stage at the company’s developer conference and promised a “reset.” He apologized for the company’s prior mistakes, and the company launched its Fabric developer platform.
But in 2017 the company abruptly sold Fabric to Google and canceled its annual developer event. Later that year, Twitter promised another reset, which was followed by a series of incredibly unpopular changes to its developer policies in 2018 that appeared to be designed to kill third-party Twitter clients.
So it’s fair to say that Twitter’s track record here is not particularly good. The company has promised to do better several times, and yet a number of developers have ultimately been burned. The fact that the company is looking for feedback on proposed changes ahead of time in this case is, perhaps, a good sign.
When asked if anything had changed since last year’s updates, Cairns didn’t comment on the API shifts that had negatively affected Twitter clients, but again repeated that Twitter really wants to alter the perception that it doesn’t care about what developers think.
“We want to change the way that we are listening to them and their needs and considering ways to build for them in the future,” he said.
Whether or not that means anything will actually be different this time around is another matter. But the company is, at least, taking some steps to prove otherwise. Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself yet again.