When it comes to social networks, Facebook is commonly cast as the villainous incumbent and Twitter the plucky underdog.
But for developers the social networks have enjoyed something of a role reversal of late, with Twitter making life difficult for apps that helped the service become popular while Facebook makes it easier to integrate its information and services across the net.
Take Twitter. Its openness spawned a host of successful third-party clients in the early days, but it recently announced plans to squeeze developer access to its API. This move effectively limits third-party apps to a base level of 100,000 users and restricts how tweets are displayed.
Among the changes appears to be a ban on tweets being displayed in a feed mixed in with updates from other networks or displayed next to a Facebook Like button.
Facebook on the other hand appears to be on a reverse trajectory. It is moving from a model that largely locked down its platform so that information was only available to apps on Facebook.com to integrating itself into sites and apps as widely as possible. So now major services such as Spotify allow users to log in using Facebook credentials, while big publishers run comments sections based on Facebook Connect.
Not only that, but developers say Facebook is a far less stressful place to develop for today than it once was. After years of turbulence, with Facebook giving third parties access to certain features only to withdraw them shortly afterwards when it considered that access was abused - for instance, when apps started spamming users’ Timelines - things are settling down. On top of this, Facebook now reportedly provides clear explanations of what developers can and can’t do on the platform.
Rather than locking down Facebook, the network is instead taking steps to blend Facebook into third-party sites and apps, allowing developers to create custom buttons that post new types of notifications to user’s Timeline - for instance, letting a shopper click a button to post that they have just bought a particular pair of jeans.
In truth, Facebook’s intentions are probably no nobler than Twitter’s. It’s just that Facebook has settled on a business model that relies on integrating itself into as many third-party websites and apps as possible. That contrasts with Twitter, which appears to be focusing on driving traffic to its own website and apps and controlling how tweets are served up, and in so doing maximising returns from sponsored content.
Alongside the new restrictions, Twitter is attempting to expand its core platform so tweets offer more than just 140-character updates in an attempt to garner more clickthroughs.
In June it announced a feature called Twitter Cards, which gives partner websites more control over the appearance of their expanded tweets, allowing them to embed custom content such as previews of stories. But that functionality is only the start. Twitter has said Cards is a step towards having apps that run within tweets.
However the upshot of Twitter’s clampdown is that developers are starting to see Facebook as a more attractive platform on which to build future apps and services than Twitter.
An executive at a business that had integrated Twitter into its site and services for several years said: “Twitter hasn’t reined in developers at all until now. Changing the rules means that as a developer ecosystem it’s a little uncertain. It exposes that Twitter can turn you off at any time and it makes you feel uncomfortable.
“To my enormous surprise I have very positive things to say about Facebook APIs right now. We’re much more excited about Facebook integration than we were six months ago.”