With New API, Twitter Attempts to Kill Autofollow Apps

Just this last week Twitter retired their long-lived 1.0 API for developers. This API was the first “versioned” release, a breath of fresh air in many ways for developers that were tired of API updates breaking their code. On June 11th, Twitter forced all devs to upgrade to their 1.1 API however, breaking many developers’ apps in the process (mine included). What hasn’t been said yet is that autofollow apps (apps that automatically follow people that follow you) seem to be out of luck with this new update, and no word yet from Twitter.

The problem with 1.1 lies in a new set of rate limits. Developers are allowed to make a certain number of calls per API method, meaning each method can only be called a certain number of times within a given time frame. This, I’m sure, is freeing up all kinds of resources and money on Twitter’s servers.

However, for apps relying on regular updates to a person’s social graph (their followers or friends), this reeks havoc on those apps. The rate limit currently for just getting the ids of a single user is 15 API calls per 15 minutes. Here’s the problem: you have to make a single API call for every 5,000 friends or followers that user has. Twitter’s API requires apps to “page” through a user’s friends and followers 5,000 at a time. This is great if a user has under 75,000 friends, but once you make that API call over 15 times to get a user’s friends, you’re stuck waiting another 15 minutes to get the rest of their friends. Now imagine if that user or brand has over 100,000 friends or followers! Or what about over 1 million! It’s impossible for an app that is trying to evaluate a person’s social graph to always know a person’s followers or friends in that rate limit, rendering apps like auto-follow, or even simple social graph analytics, impossible.

When you think about it, this might make sense per Twitter’s current business model. For users and brands with over 75,000 followers, I’m willing to bet Twitter would love to have them as customers. Many of those can afford an account rep that can take care of custom requests. In addition, Twitter now has their own analytics to track a user’s social graph growth over time. So maybe Twitter is discouraging these types of apps. I’m fine with that as long as they are open about it.

If this is the direction Twitter is going, I have to say I’m used to it. To be honest I haven’t been putting much effort into my own service that has focused on the social graph of Twitter users, SocialToo, because of it. In many ways it has just become another “hole” filler in Twitter’s API history. As a developer though, this is certainly discouraging, and even further driving me away from Twitter’s developer platform.

I hope I’m wrong. I’ve asked in the Twitter developer forums with no answer yet. Is there another solution I’m missing? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do another post showing how to do it.

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