What Twitter’s API changes mean for your website

Author: Andy Hartwell

Hi! I’m Mark. I went away for a while, but now I’m back. Unfortunately it’s as the bearer of slightly irritating news. So, deep breath, here goes!

Twitter has been making, and planning big changes in the way developers – and through them the wider world – access content posted on the site. Much has been done under the banner of “consistency” which is an attempt to wrestle back the control the company gave away when they made their API so open to begin with. Most of this concerns app development, but Twitter’s most recent move to disable RSS feeds has far-reaching consequences for site owners that want to include a Latest Tweet box on their sites. The feeling among developers can probably be summed up most succinctly by a video tweeted a couple of days ago.

What does this mean?

A lot of websites, including some that we build here at Substrakt, use Twitter’s RSS feeds as a simple way to display the latest tweets from a particular account. It’s a great way of helping a website stay current, by showcasing what an organisation is up to right now.

RSS, the same technology used for sites like Google Reader or for downloading podcasts, gave us the ability to pull content from Twitter without having to login or write swathes of code to access their API. Now that this has been turned off, users will see a blank space where the tweets should go. And in rarer cases – though luckily not in sites built by Substrakt – pages may even refuse to load, because they’re awaiting content from Twitter, or they’ve received an unexpected response which has caused them to crash.

What can we do about it?

At the moment, the simplest option is to use a Twitter widget, similar to the Facebook boxes you might already be familiar with.

This doesn’t give us a great deal of flexibility as you can see from the “Configure a User Widget” page of the Twitter website. We can choose a black or white background, and change the link colour. The widget has to be created for use on a specific domain, and by default will help to gather statistical data which Twitter uses to recommend accounts to new users.

In the longer term, we’d like to work on a way to bring back the customisation, but this will take time and depend on what level of API access we can get from Twitter, but in the meantime this is our best suggestion. And we can help you swap your old Twitter box out with this, or work with you on a new solution. Do get in touch if you have any questions.

A little perspective

It’s easy for developers to quickly turn a convenience or a luxury into a must-have necessity, so I think it’s important to remember that as people who use and work with Twitter, we’ve no right to make a racket about how they run their free service. I do however think it shows a lack of concern for organisations around the world who want to use Twitter as an inexpensive way to connect with their audience. Having said that, I’m sure we’ll see improvements to the Twitter widget system.