Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Parallel Twitter Search Repository

I was reading the news about Twitter limiting API requests for developers to 20,000 per hour. There is a good assessment of the implications on the SocialToo blog. The foundation of Twitter's success has not been the service itself but rather the openness of the API. The API has encouraged developers to create innovative new services that address limitations in the core service. Throttling API calls may seem like a prudent move for Twitter, it could even be the harbinger of a business model, but it potentially hurts Twitter and the ecosystem in subtle but significant ways.

The throttle on the API makes it more difficult for companies to create business models that are based on Twitter. This will encourage more diversity and weaken Twitter's bid to become the ubiquitous communications utility.

If it is a harbinger of a new business model then I hope to see pricing tier details emerge that allow heavy users to raise the API call limits. If this comes to pass then Twitter will have to provide Service Level Agreements to go with this. If Twitter is going to do this they need to move quickly. If they fail to do so then the ecosystem will find a way to isolate the influence of Twitter.

I have been thinking about the Twitter business model for some time and suggested that throttling the API may be an early indicator of that (See my post from July 18th - Twitter's business model emerges?). People may be willing to pay for priority access - the stock quote model.

If Twitter does not move quickly to support the innovative applications that make Twitter so attractive then I have a suggestion to developers. Think on this....

If you are building a business around the Twitter API how about creating a shared search repository with an API that mirrors Twitter. Let's use the wisdom of the crowds to crowd source Twitter data.

What do I mean by this?

There must be a growing number of developers that are building applications that pull the same information from Twitter. The followers of the most popular twitterers, The tweets around the most popular trending topics. Who is following who....

What if the results of those API calls could be pooled in a cloud resource on the Google AppEngine or an Amazon EC2/S3 platform? If this information could be made accessible using the same API structure as Twitter then developers could modify their applications to check this resource first before using their valuable pool of API calls to Twitter. Then when a call is made to Twitter send the returned data to the cloud. If you think about it, the growing number of Twitter desktop clients have tremendous potential to build this parallel repository. What if TweetDeck or Twhirl had an option in their preferences to "Post Twitter search data to community repository"? As the number of desktop clients and users grew so would the power of the community repository.

Yes, there are probably a legion of technical issues to resolve in all this, but we are already seeing services like mirror and extend twitter functionality. If we want the Twitter ecosystem to thrive then developers need to work together to minimize the impact that the core Twitter service can have on their livelihoods.

What are your thoughts?

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