The API Wars

Next Story

Seagate releases an actual fix for freezing HDDs

Although the data is fragmentary and the likelihood of anything significant happening soon is impossible to calculate, something tells me FriendFeed has reached the point where it is in the driver’s seat of social media. Whether that means something important in today’s climate of layoffs and hard looks at viral business models is certainly debatable. But FriendFeed has maneuvered itself into the interesting position of replacing Twitter as the front end to the micromessaging platform it created.

As Paul Buchheit proved with his simple Javascript experiment, FriendFeed’s APIs already allow him or anyone to create a simple Twitterish UI in a few hundred lines of code. While this particular take doesn’t do everything he or I’d want it to, it does viscerally prove the underlying point — that FriendFeed can shapeshift into Twitter while Twitter can’t return the favor. If the user can get all the benefits of Twitter plus those of FriendFeed, why use Twitter?

Currently I write to FriendFeed’s engine from a combination of sources, principally the GChat XMPP IM window in Gmail but occasionally via Twhirl and only via TwitterSpy (a delayed Track tool) when responding to an @reply message from someone I don’t follow. In the latter case, my response is sent via Twitter at the first hop, and then aggregated into FriendFeed. In the other more common cases, my comments are sent from FriendFeed to Twitter.

Buchheit’s prototype code is but the latest in a series of examples that suggest Twitter’s stranglehold on its users is weakening. Another is Power Twitter, a Firefox plugin that enhances the Twitter Web UI with a variety of features, most notably one that decrypts shortened URLs into a full text description of the link based on the target page’s title. The tool also unpacks image URLs and places the image inline, something that FriendFeed does with images, podcasts, and video embeds as well.

These small flourishes turn the Twitter Web page into something I’ll check from time to time, as opposed to never with the vanilla site. Twhirl provides persistence, aggregation of @replies, direct messages, and follow updates in a single stream, making it a better solution until recently when FriendFeed added real time support and, just yesterday, an import tool to synchronize Twitter follows as FriendFeed subscribers. All that remains unavailable is Track, though there are poor-man workarounds using Twitter Search RSS feeds imported into FriendFeed rooms.

Most of these new features have been available for the last few months, but Twitter’s decision to rate limit the ability for third party developers to add services related to following and unfollowing has struck a nerve. Twitter’s ongoing rate limiting of its full firehose has kept Track dead in the water except in a crippled form, and in doing so power users have found it necessary to migrate to mass following strategies that make the flow of data impossible to manage.

The services affected by the new rate limits identify spam and marketing bots and attempt to prune them while autofollowing “real” friends. Unfortunately, these services need to ping the Twitter API thousands of times to determine who is “real”, and according to some developers Twitter is unwilling to improve its APIs to make such verbose approaches unnecessary. It could very well be that Twitter doesn’t want third parties to leverage its platform for services it would like to charge for themselves, but whatever the rationale, the net result is an impasse.

To be sure, FriendFeed might have similar problems if the market suddenly shifted over to them in numbers sufficient to test the smaller company’s resources. Yet Google’s open sourcing of Jaiku and its transplant on top of AppEngine suggests that apps could be built that slowly but surely pipe more and more messages to multiple engines. Already FriendFeed is smart about avoiding recursive loops between Twitter and FriendFeed; it won’t take much to establish an entry point that is effectively identical from a Twitter user’s perspective while also polulating several redundant stores with identical material.

The longer Twitter sends mixed messages about its plans for the services people inevitably will find mandatory — Track and filtering — the more attractive these alternate stores will become. A smart front end that manages whatever constructs people find useful in a way that can be configured to each or several UI patterns can gather significant market momentum over the next few months.

What can slow this down? For starters, Twitter can release new versions of some of these services to blunt the opportunity for its competitors. Some postulate a partnership between Twitter and a larger player, but Facebook’s apparent .5 billion stock offer makes it pricey for a Microsoft who classically would rather build than buy. The Jaiku play seems to undervalue Twitter, not to mention the trouble Google is having with real time in general (Feedburner, phone home.) Yahoo? No.

IBM bought Twitter 1.0 with Notes in the Lotus acquisition, and fueled its entry into half of the messaging market around the Y2K marketing opportunity. Now micromessaging offers users a more elastic construct to model digital relationships across decomposing corporate silos and virtual communities. Twitter sits midway between the walled garden approach of Facebook and the evolution of messaging embodied by Gmail and its IM integration.

It’s no small thing that valuable connections these days flow over direct messages. The Twitter social graph is constrained by the difficulty in managing too many follows, and the follow dance leads to cross-follow relationships that business relationships to emerge from the value of the affinities which attract people to each other. As track and filtering return, tools will allow partitioning of micromessages into the atomic datatypes of both email and IM, with the added attribute of dynamic provisioning based on a project by project basis. This is where the money flows, and is made.

FriendFeed is Twitter’s API. It’s also an RSS aggregator — a direct competitor of Google Reader — and forces Google to confront the absurd latencies of Feedburner and YouTube transcoding for display on the iPhone. Today’s rollout of in-line video playback in Gchat suggests Google is interested in keeping users tethered to the Gmail console and its Adsense engine, but FriendFeed’s APIs are available to developers while Gmail Labs remains an internal sandbox. And Buchheit’s previous startup was Gmail.

  • http://twitter.com/nitin Nitin Borwankar

    Having less features not more is considered to be critical in crossing the chasm. Friendfeed appeals to early adopters, Twitter has crossed the chasm due to its simplicity and mass appeal. Twitter is the Blogger of micromessaging – and inspite of it’s lack of features Blogger is still not dead.

    So features == success is not a given.

  • A. Mous

    Mr. Gillmor, you seem to assume Twitter won’t simply turn the firehose off on Friendfeed one day in the near future.

    • http://www.doctype.cx andrew korf

      And alienate everyone who loves and uses both of their services? Were ev to make such a move, which he won’t … one would imagine many of the people who make twittter the important channel that it is.. would leave and go to open.

    • http://thomashawk.com Thomas Hawk

      If Twitter turned the firehouse off on FriendFeed there would be an incredibly passionate outcry against them for sure by some of their earliest and loudest supporters. When you start with an open API it’s hard to go back and close it after the fact. I seriously doubt you’d see that happen.

      It is a pickle for Twitter to be in though. Twitter is far ahead of FriendFeed in terms of users and especially with the adoption by a lot of celebrities recently is close to making the jump into the mainstream big time. But FriendFeed is a vastly superior platform — a super stable platform built by some very smart people that gets better and better every day.

      The recent tool to import your Twitter friends into FriendFeed was significant.

      For people who are not on FriendFeed yet, I wrote a blog post yesterday titled 10 Reasons Why You Should Sign Up for FriendFeed Here: http://thomashawk.com/2009/01/10-reasons-why-you-should-sign-up-for-friendfeed.html

  • http://www.doctype.cx andrew korf

    Great post – cuts the bullshit on the important questions around this rapidly evolving medium. Thanks Steve.

  • http://www.thebrandonshow.com Brandon J. Mendelson

    This is a fascinating analysis, but the whole time I’m reading I’m thinking “Yes, but …” because:

    1) The average web user is either unaware of FriendFeed or dislikes it.

    2) The people on FriendFeed, at least from what I’m seeing, are generally unhappy that they seem to be talking to themselves as opposed to the usual suspects dominating the conversation.

    I know, in a year, we will all be about FriendFeed, but for every Twitter there is a Jaiku, so I don’t think it’s time to assume FriendFeed will be the next king.

    Besides, all glory is fleeting with social media platforms.

  • http://staynalive.com Jesse Stay

    Great post, Steve! It will be interesting to see how all this plays out. If Twitter stops us from doing what we want to do, we’re going to have to transition those services elsewhere. It seems they’re starting to work with us, but it’s still not enough.

  • http://scripting.com Dave Winer

    A Mous nails it. FF doesn’t dare challenge Twitter directly now — if they do they might find their firehose slows down or develops gltches it didn’t used to have. They should have done it a year ago, now it’s too late. It’s all about the users, Twitter has em, FF needs Twitter much much more than vice versa.

    • http://microping.me Darren

      If this is the case then FF could simply switch to GNIP.

      As someone who actively develops using these apis I think the 20k limit is just the beginning of a business model for premium access for developers.

      I have been long working on a new version of crowdstatus (a way of creating groups around twitter users) and these rate limits have basically killed the new version.The new version of my app follows lots of users via gnip and it tells me when they are updated then I go and get the data from twitter. As some users post a lot 20k could be used up by just following 2000 users.

      People who are saying this limit is nothing do not understand how the api works and how quickly apps need to be able to scale in the twitter world.

      It does not affect client apps like tweetdeck etc because these apps are using the users rate count.

      just wanted to comment on this paragraph too

      The services affected by the new rate limits identify spam and marketing bots and attempt to prune them while autofollowing “real” friends. Unfortunately, these services need to ping the Twitter API thousands of times to determine who is “real”, and according to some developers Twitter is unwilling to improve its APIs to make such verbose approaches unnecessary. It could very well be that Twitter doesn’t want third parties to leverage its platform for services it would like to charge for themselves, but whatever the rationale, the net result is an impasse.

      No its not just services like this, I think you will find life streaming and filtering apps like crowdstatus will hit twitter a lot.

      These sort of services that figure out if someone is real should not be hitting twitter to much to figure out if someone is a real person and not a bot, 1 they should have their own records that tell em which users are bots and 2, looking at the followers number vs the following number is a good measurement. Also its a type of activity twitter is getting much better at. They are removing these bots from twitter by looking at their activities.

      wow that was a long comment that no one will ever read :p

  • http://my1pna.ning.com Clarence Crown Prince of Web 2.0

    I could follow most of the article, but towards the end it left my head spinning. “Now micromessaging offers users a more elastic construct to model digital relationships across decomposing corporate silos and virtual communities” very flowery words, but I’m not sure that it’s an accurate description.

  • http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki Bill Seitz

    I think FF should try and get SixApart/Pounce and Google/Jaiku and identi.ca to hash out a common base API, whether it’s OpenMicroBlogging or something else. While competing on some other dimension.

    • http://sankt-georg.info/ Markus Merz | Hamburg St. Georg

      As far as I know @evan from identi.ca/Laconica is already approaching the FF team to consolidate the API server wise via OMB.

  • http://blog.smartalyx.com Alyx (smartalyx)

    Good points on API wars, Steve {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/BOQwPD8VCT_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Good points on API wars, Steve “}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/HTKApPzg8D”}}}

  • http://jeroendemiranda.wordpress.com Jeroen de Miranda

    FriendFeed is a great aggregator.

    I have used it also to aggregate twitter users; creating Twitter groups with FriendFeed. The aggregated tweets of this group can be embedded in another blog.

    Example:
    http://www.jeroendemiranda.com/ambtenaar-20/

    presentation showing how to group twitterers into a FF group:
    http://jeroendemiranda.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/how-to-aggregate-several-twitter-users-in-a-friendfeed-group/

    presentation showing how to embed this group into your blog:
    http://jeroendemiranda.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/how-to-embed-a-friendfeed-widget-in-a-blog/

  • http://www.erkenntniswerk.de/2009/01/23/bookmarks-vom-23-01-2009/ Bookmarks vom 23-01-2009 — ErkenntnisWerk

    […] The API Wars As Paul Buchheit proved with his simple Javascript experiment, FriendFeed’s APIs already allow him or anyone to create a simple Twitterish UI in a few hundred lines of code. While this particular take doesn’t do everything he or I’d want it to, it does viscerally prove the underlying point — that FriendFeed can shapeshift into Twitter while Twitter can’t return the favor. If the user can get all the benefits of Twitter plus those of FriendFeed, why use Twitter? (Tags: api twitter freindfeed) […]

  • http://www.livecrunch.com/2009/01/23/looks-like-google-feedburner-fixed-my-account/ Looks Like Google FeedBurner Fixed My Account

    […] Alternatives Are Available for Feed Management? Related as well: Conversational Media Marketing, TechCrunchIT, Geek News Central, Zoli’s Blog and […]

  • nemrut

    ‘FriendFeed has reached the point where it is in the driver’s seat of social media’

    man…i’ll have whatever it is you’re smoking. Most folks have barely heard of Twitter let alone Friendfeed. There is no way FF is going to achieve mass adoption in its current incarnation–way too complicated. When Robert Scoble, the unofficial FF evangelist, has to write a blog post longer than 500 words w/more than 20 bullet points explaining how to use FF, that doesnt speak well for the user experience.

    Now granted, FF’s first yr of growth is greater than Twitter’s was, but that simply means FF was able to leverage Twitter’s user base to gain traction.

    Lastly, I hate to say it but your writing reads like turgid prose. Clear, simple sentences are more effective in conveying you thoughts.

  • http://www.manyniches.com Brandon Watson

    The point above about more users being the gating factor FTW is an important once. If Robert Scoble left Twitter completely, would Shaq care? Britney? Lance Armstrong? Those people are all on Twitter. Even our President. Users matter, both in numbers, and in reach.

    Twitter is in the driver’s seat; that’s my assertion anyway. Check out this analysis of usage patterns of FF and Twitter based on data collected via the API:

    http://www.manyniches.com/n00b-notes/friendfeed-helping-twitter/

  • http://sebastiankeil.wordpress.com/2009/01/24/everybody-is-innovating-on-the-twitter-experience-but-twitter/ Everybody is innovating on the Twitter experience but Twitter « sebastiankeil.de

    […] to a flood of messages in which Loic discussed the new twhirl release. Factor in Friendfeed’s continous technical innovations and, what’s more, Steve Rubel and Steve Gillmor’s habitual innovations, it seems that […]

  • http://safespacelab.com emf testing

    Nice. I keep asking myself, how long will I keep putting up with this. It’s my data, even if I am unimportant in Twitter’s grand scheme of things.

  • http://www.appspatrol.com iPhone Apps Review

    FriendFeed won’t grow in popularity until Twitter becomes passe – that is, not until the Twitter-haters give up and join up. Then the Twitter originators will move on.

  • http://www.insegment.com Boston SEO

    Tech Crunch is waaay disproportionately obsessed with FriendFeed. It’s not that relevant. Maybe it will be someday, but 99% of people have no idea it exists.

  • http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/07/20/friendfeeds-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness

    […] for beta testing today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has long been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for social […]

  • http://mycodetree.com/2009/07/friendfeed%e2%80%99s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness | CodeTree

    […] beta test­ing today, adding a plethora of new fea­tures for devel­op­ers to work with. We’ve writ­ten in the past that Friend­Feed has long been in the driver’s seat for exper­i­men­ta­tion for […]

  • http://styker.net/2009/07/friendfeed%e2%80%99s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness

    […] for beta testing today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has long been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for social […]

  • http://techdozer.com/friendfeed%e2%80%99s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness | TechDozer.Com

    […] for beta testing today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has long been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for social […]

  • http://cellphoneultra.com/friendfeed-s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-moment Goodness | Cellphone Ultra

    […] beta examining today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has enlarged been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for […]

  • http://blog.viningmedia.nl/2009/07/friendfeed%e2%80%99s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness | Viningmedia Nieuws

    […] for beta testing today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has long been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for social […]

  • http://www.scoopernews.com/friendfeed%e2%80%99s-latest-api-spreads-real-time-goodness/ FriendFeed’s Latest API Spreads Real-Time Goodness | ScooperNews.com

    […] for beta testing today, adding a plethora of new features for developers to work with. We’ve written in the past that FriendFeed has long been in the driver’s seat for experimentation for social […]

blog comments powered by Disqus