Twitter and Reddit’s high-priced APIs are bad news for the internet’s future


There’s a concerning new trend among social media platforms when it comes to APIs, and it threatens how the modern internet works for normal everyday users.

If you’re not a programmer or developer, perhaps you scroll on by whenever there’s an article about social media APIs. Perhaps you’re not familiar with what they are. API stands for application programming interface. Basically, they allow one application to access information and communicate with another application. 

If you’ve ever used an unofficial, third-party client, like say Apollo for Reddit or Twitterrific for Twitter, you’ve used an app that could not exist without that social media platform’s API. Do you use an app like Hootsuite to post your content to social platforms? That’s only possible due to APIs. Are you a livestreamer using third-parties services like Streamlabs to announce new subscribers live on-screen? That works because of APIs.

However, recent moves from Twitter and Reddit to charge developers tens of thousands to millions of dollars for API access can destroy all of that.

So, why should you care about what’s going on with APIs right now? Well, since the very early days of social media, many platforms provided developers with access to their APIs at no-cost. Some form of free API access has existed for as long as social media has. Friendster had(opens in a new tab) it. MySpace had(opens in a new tab) it. 

There has long been sort of this unwritten rule that users provide these social media platforms with data via their content and usage, platforms utilize that data to monetize, and to show that the platform didn’t have ownership over such user data, third-party indie developers and startups were able to access that data freely to create cool and interesting apps to the benefit of the platforms and its users alike.

Now, obviously in the interest of fair use and good faith there were some caveats. These platforms needed to make sure bad actors weren’t using APIs to spam the platform or access user data improperly. And, of course, if one of these third-party apps became successful and grew bigger than most, a fair payment was sometimes requested by the platform in order to properly serve that app with broader access while still maintaining quality of service for everyone else.

All-in-all, in an age where a few social media platforms dominate the market, the system worked fairly well. Students, self-funded programmers, indie developers alike were all able to take part in this tech ecosystem because they could all afford to build upon these already popular apps. 

But then, earlier this year, Elon Musk decided to end Twitter’s free API access. It was a concerning development, but not completely out of the ordinary. Outside of social media, some online platforms do require a paid subscription for API access. Usually, these subscriptions start in the three-figure a month range, if not less. Developers were shocked, however, when Twitter finally shared Musk’s payment expectations: API access would start at $42,000 per month. While attempts were made to negotiate with Twitter, the company refused to budge. Indie-made Twitter apps, many of which actually encouraged more use of the platform and helped provide a more healthy, positive experience on the site, were forced to shut down. (Months later, Twitter would roll out a $5,000 per month plan which proved to be either still too expensive for most developers or too late for those who already shut down their apps.)

Following Twitter’s lead, Reddit announced it would also start charging for API access. Based on previous comments from the company, developers thought Reddit’s move was just put in place to monetize uses that did not add to the Reddit experience. For example, companies training AI language models frequently use swaths of data from social media platforms. The platform and its users see no benefit in that. In turn, those companies charge its own users to access AI trained off that data. It makes sense for a platform to charge those AI companies for API access.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The creator of the popular Reddit client Apollo shared the news earlier this week that Reddit’s paid API plans affect the app and would cost him $20 million per year, effectively putting Apollo out of business. This is an app that helps users access Reddit in a streamlined way, which in turn results in them using Reddit more. Killing off an app like this for potential short term monetization gains just does not make sense.

Again, APIs help developers access your data. Yet, the social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, which already use your data to monetize via advertisers, want to now charge exorbitant fees just for access to your data.

Which platform will be next? There’s relatively few major social media platforms to begin with. What happens when they all want to box you in to only use their official apps to access your own data? What happens to the tech industry when only a student developer can no longer afford to create apps and software?

If this trend continues, the internet will look like a very different place in just a few years.





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