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Twitter Calls Everybody Back To The Twitter Mothership

It's been said for a while that the future of Twitter looks a lot like Facebook. That just got real true today.

Twitter just confirmed that the future of Twitter is one where it controls the way that everything looks and feels. That clean, orderly, "consistent Twitter experience" that it's been promising to deliver. You know, the one behaves a lot more like Facebook. And it starts by smothering your favorite non-official Twitter apps.

Which, hello normal user, using Twitter.com and the official Twitter app for your favorite phone or computer. Nothing changes for you! Keep on tweeting. Twitter likes what you are doing. But if you're a Twitter poweruser, a Twitter superfreak that uses a non-official Twitter app to do weird and cool things — well, your whole world might've just gotten rocked.

This is one of the key points in announcing version 1.1 of the Twitter API — basically the way developers hook into Twitter to build apps:

If your application already has more than 100,000 individual user tokens, you'll be able to maintain and add new users to your application until you reach 200% of your current user token count (as of today) — as long as you comply with our Rules of the Road. Once you reach 200% of your current user token count, you'll be able to maintain your application to serve your users, but you will not be able to add additional users without our permission.

In other words, new Twitter apps can gain up to 100,000 users. Twitter apps with over 100,000 users, like TweetBot or Echofon, can grow to be twice as big as they are now, but no bigger than that. They're capped. Twitter is in effect holding a pillow over Twitter apps as you know them, smothering the ecosystem over time.

The reason, simply, is that Twitter wants to control the entire experience, end to end — in particular, the timeline and discovery aspects of the service. That's why there's another key section of the document:

Display Guidelines will be Display Requirements

To ensure that Twitter users have a consistent experience wherever they see and interact with Tweets, in v1.1 of the Twitter API we will shift from providing Display Guidelines to Display Requirements, which we will also introduce for mobile applications. We will require all applications that display Tweets to adhere to these. Among them: linking @usernames to the appropriate Twitter profile, displaying appropriate Tweet actions (e.g. Retweet, reply and favorite) and scaling display of Tweets appropriately based on the device. If your application displays Tweets to users, and it doesn't adhere to our Display Requirements, we reserve the right to revoke your application key.

Basically what that says is that if a Twitter app doesn't display tweets the way that Twitter wants it to, Twitter will cut it off. What that means for superawesome sites like Favstar.fm, which aggregate tweets, display them with custom formatting and link internally is that it'll essentially have to resort to embedding tweets in a way that looks like Twitter, not favstar, and that links out more prominently to Twitter (for instance, an @username link will have to go Twitter.com, not to its equivalent on Favstar.fm. The rules don't mandate the display of Cards, which attach "media experiences" to tweets, and what most suspect are key to Twitter's future as a media company, but I wouldn't be surprised if Twitter did mandate them eventually, particularly if there's a heavy ad component, since that's how Twitter's gonna make moooooney.

And while these sort of meta-Twitter sites like favstar, Topsy, HootSuite, Storify and Klout (or any site that Twitter's Michael Sippey mentions by name in the post) are safe from Twitter's API fury, media-driven sites like Flipboard and Prismatic, which take Twitter data and use it to power their own media content, are probably hosed. That's likely part of why Twitter's forcing apps to authenticate themselves to access its API — to see exactly who's using it. And just like it cut off LinkedIn and then Instagram for accessing its interest graph, you can probably bet other sites and services that Twitter finds competitive are going to be cut off from accessing lists of who users are following (I'd bet real money on Flipboard and Tumblr).

It's maybe a somewhat annoying parallel to repeat, ad infinitum, but this Twitter is a lot more like Facebook than the original Twitter, the "Twitter that could have been." It's Twitter, the media company. Twitter, the company that sells ads. The Twitter needs a "consistent experience" for that to happen. So everything looks and feels the way Twitter wants it to, that displays what Twitter wants it to. Apps build into Twitter, but they don't pull Twitter outward. Like, you know, Facebook. I hope you like — I mean fave it.