Twitter and Reddit APIs Are the Canaries in the Public API Coal Mine

I have long considered Twitter to be one of the most important APIs to there. With its former status as the town square for the world, the Twitter API provided an unprecedented view into how our world works. Similarly the Reddit API provides the same unprecedented view into the “home page” for the web, revealing how the online, and even offline world works. The recent shifts towards monetization of the Twitter and Reddit API is a common strategy from the Silicon Valley API playbook, but it is also a sign of what is to come when it comes to building platforms, accessing information online, and how the Internet works.

First, opening up a public API, minimizing the restrictions early on to attract users and establish a network effect, then tightening down controls and monetizing your API, is a pretty standard approach from the venture backed startup API playbook. What sucks, is that startups aren’t honest about it with their communities, and view the value generated during this time as purely the result of smart platform leadership, and not the result large amounts of unpaid labor by a community. I’ve seen this cycle play out over and over in the API realm, and one of the reasons I’ve become very jaded regarding the potential of API, or rather how the business and politics can diminish the technological potential of APIs.

Second, artificial intelligence will continue to shift how we manage information, and render the waves of API-driven success over the last 20 years invisible. I have worked extremely hard since 2010 to help elevate the role APIs play behind desktop, web, mobile, and device applications, demonstrating why the API matters often more than the application of the API. But sadly, I don’t think that making APIs visible through the obfuscation that is artificial intelligence, or more appropriately the business and politics of the bullshit machine around artificial intelligence will be possible. I, at least, do not have the energy to continue elevating APIs — maybe someone else will come along.

These two realities are deeply connected. Twitter and Reddit are both shifting their business models in response to the latest wave of artificial intelligence business and hype. It isn’t that APIs will go away. To the contrary, they will become even more important as they are the inputs and the outputs of artificial intelligence. APIs just won’t be front and center in public view. Which will make it even easier to obfuscate, manipulate, and exploit API consumers. Honestly, I am done caring. I am done trying to elevate APIs, and keep the pipes behind our increasingly digital world visible. The business and politics of our world will always outweigh the technology behind the digital transformation seeping into everything around us at home, work, and in the public spaces we take for granted.

You will not find this story published to either Twitter or Reddit—at least by my hand. This isn’t the result of some grand protest on my part. It is just because these platforms don’t matter anymore to my API narrative. They were both once the most important APIs out there, but due to the most recent shift in our digital landscape, their decline is imminent. Platforms mean nothing without their ecosystems, and ecosystems depend on APIs to flourish. Sure, these platform won’t go away anytime soon, but they will continue to decline, and eventually fade away from popular imagination. Moving forward, it will be extremely difficult to find success at scale with public APIs, because of the exploitative nature of artificial intelligence, but also because API savvy consumers will be wary of working on Maggies farm anymore.