Twitter, It’s Time to Open Source Your API

twitter.pngWith the recent launch of a “Twitter API” by both Automattic (WordPress.com) and Tumblr, it is evident that developers have a need to implement similar APIs, on similar platforms, reducing the effort to retrieve data from multiple platforms in a single client.  With Tweetie, for instance, you can simply change a single URL to “WordPress.com” or “Tumblr.com” or “Identi.ca” and immediately be receiving updates from your friends on those services, and even post back to those services.  I argue this approach is very closed though, as for each and every implementation of a “Twitter API” (which ironically has nothing to do with Twitter), the developers need to completely re-invent the wheel and copy what Twitter has done based on documentation of Twitter’s own API to access its data.  Readwriteweb even went to the extent of calling this approach “open”.  There’s nothing open about it.  Each developer implementing their own “Twitter API” (and especially calling it such) is blatantly ripping off Twitter’s API to do so under no license whatsoever and Twitter’s just standing back and watching.  I think it’s time Twitter releases their API under an Open Source license to relieve this mess and protect their IP.

Open Sourcing APIs is nothing new.  Of course, Google, with OpenSocial, did it and even standardized their own API for “containers” to easily implement the same API across multiple sites.  All the code was provided for developers to do this and we quickly saw sites such as MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, and others all implement the same standard, reducing the code needed to port an app from platform to platform.

Facebook did the same with their platform.  A little known fact is that any developer can go to http://developers.facebook.com/opensource.php and download the Facebook Open Platform, along with many other very useful open source tools.  Immediately they have access to enable FBML, FBJS, and other aspects of the Facebook API to developers on their own sites, standardizing the Facebook platform amongst sites that implement it.  Bebo was one of those who took up Facebook on this offer.  Others can too.

What we need now is a standardized platform for sharing micro-content.  Some have proposed RSS do this, which is fine with me, but since developers already have apps built on Twitter which this would go with it makes sense to also enable a standardized platform for developers to code on for these types of apps.  Such an open-sourced code-base would enable developers to not have to change their code to enable access to similar sites beyond just Twitter.  Twitter right now is a closed platform, plain and simple.  With the exception of OAuth, they are based on a proprietary API, do not support open content protocols, and even their real-time stream is proprietary.

A good step for Twitter would be to open source this API.  Enable sites such as WordPress, Tumblr, Status.net, and others to easily integrate it into their own platformse without the need to re-invent the wheel.  Put it under an open license, and then your IP remains protected.  Until that point  developers are going to continue ripping off Twitter’s API, and Twitter’s IP slowly starts to go down the drain.  I’d love to see Twitter take a lead in this process – it took Facebook just about 6 months to open source their API.  Why haven’t we seen this yet from Twitter?

Or are they the next Compuserve?

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6 thoughts on “Twitter, It’s Time to Open Source Your API

  1. Pretty interested to see how this turns out Jesse, as me and Tyler are hacking around the twitter social stream to poke around for value (with facebook on deck). Looking forward to more open standards with microbloggging and certainly interchange of status updates.

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  2. Mark, one option (which I don't know the legal ramifications, as I can
    definitely see potential IP issues) is to see what Laconi.ca has done with
    the Twitter API and emulate that. It's not official Twitter code though,
    which is why I really think Twitter needs to take control of that.

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  3. Twitter defines an API

    developers build out tools for that API

    other developers create a matching interface on their data flow

    actually I think this is how the web melts barriers. Interoperability increases, I think we all benefit (even Twitter).

    Think about 100million wordpress users suddenly tweeting because they use Tweetie or tweetdeck on wordpress and like it.

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  4. Is it even possible to copy write an API? Documentation for the API, sure, it's a document, so you can copy write it. But the APIs themselves?

    If APIs by themselves could have a copy write I would image Microsoft would have played that card against the Wine project a long time ago.

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