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Twitter Finally Begins To Monetize Their APIs

It has been a long time coming, but Twitter has finally started charging for premium access to their APIs. Until now, you could only access data via the free Twitter API with limitations, or pay to use Gnip at the enterprise level–nothing in between. I’ve long complained about how Twitter restricts access to our tweets, as well as the lack of transparency and honesty around their business model. I’ve complained so much about it, I eventually stopped writing about it, and I never thought I’d see the day where Twitter starts charging for access to their platform.

While I have concerns about Twitter further limiting access to our data by charging for API access, their initial release has some positive signs that give me hope that they are monetizing things in a sensible way. They seem to be focused on monetizing some of the key paint points around Twitter API consumption, like being able to get more access to historical data, offer more Tweets per request, higher rate limits, a counts endpoint that returns time-series counts of Tweets, more complex queries and metadata enrichments, such as expanded URLs and improved profile geo information. Twitter seems to be thinking about the primary pain we all experience at the lower rungs of Twitter access, and focusing on making the platform more scalable for companies of all shapes and sizes–which has been core to my complaints.

Twitter even provides a quote from a client which highlights what I’ve been complaining about for some time about the inequity in Twitter API access:

I wish these premium APIs were available during our first few years. As we grew, we quickly ran into data limitations that prevented expansion. Ultimately, we raised a round of funding in order to accelerate our growth with the enterprise APIs. With the premium APIs, we could have bootstrapped our business longer and scaled more efficiently. - Madeline Parra, CEO and Co-Founder, Twizoo (now part of Skyscanner) @TwizooSocial

This demonstrates for me how venture capital, and the way the belief systems around it railroad folks down a specific path, and is blind to those of us who do not choose the path of venture capital. Twitter’s new pricing page starts things off at $149.00 / month, after the current free public tier of access, and climbs up five tiers to $2,499.00 / month. Giving you more access with each access tier you climb. While not a perfect spacing of pricing tiers, something that sill might be difficult for some startups to climb, it is much better than what was there before, or should I say, what wasn’t there. At least you can scale your access now, in a sensible, above the board vertical way, and not horizontally with separate accounts. Incentivizing the more positive behavior Twitter should want to see via their API.

Twitter should have started doing this back in 2008 and 2009 to help throttle bad behavior on their platform. The platform would look very different today if there had been a level playing field in the API ecosystem, and developers weren’t forced to scale horizontally. API monetization and planning isn’t just about generating revenue to keep a platform up and running serving everyone. Sensible API monetization is about being aware of, and intimately understanding platform behavior and charging to restrict, shape, and incentivize the behavior you want to see on your platform. Twitter has missed out on a huge opportunity to truly understand the API community at this level, as well as generate much needed revenue over the years. Shutting out many good actors, incentivizing bad actors, and really only recognizing trusted partners, while being blind to everything else.

After a decade of complaining about Twitter’s practices in their ecosystem, and their clear lack of a business model around their API. I am happy to see movement in this area. While there is a HUGE amount of work ahead of them, I feel like monetization of the API ecosystem, and crafting of a sensible API plan framework is essential to the health and viability of the platform. It is how they will begin to get a hold on the automation that plagues the platform, and begin de-platforming the illness that has become synonymous with Twitter during the 2016 election, while also leveling the playing field for many of us bootstrapped startups who are trying to do interesting things with the Twitter API. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter premium APIs, and see where things head, but for now I’m cautiously optimistic.