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open API (public API)

An open API case study

The rise of Twitter illustrates the benefits of open APIs, along with the potential drawbacks.

When Twitter started, it provided a text-only format and a rudimentary web-based interface. However, Twitter provided an open API that allowed programmatic access to its systems.

An ecosystem of tools and feature enhancements were quickly developed. TwitPic, which added the ability to share photos through Twitter, became popular. Customizable desktop interfaces, such as TweetDeck and Falcon Pro, earned favor from users who were not impressed by Twitter’s own interface. A large part of the Twitter success story was due to the additional features and software applications that were developed using its open API.

However, some of the Twitter clients rejected Twitter advertisements or injected their own ads, which had a negative effect on Twitter’s business model. Through acquisitions, API restrictions and trademark challenges, Twitter pushed back against some companies that used its open API.

Some members of the software development community felt betrayed by Twitter. They believed the community that developed apps using Twitter’s open API played a large part in why Twitter became successful. Shutting down those APIs and filing trademark infringements against supporting services showed disregard for the many developers who played a part in Twitter’s success, some in the community said.

Twitter executives said their moves sought to protect the company’s trademarks and intellectual property, as well as the platform’s security.

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