What is the Vision of Your API Program? Lessons from Twitter's Latest API Manifesto 

  April 11, 2017

Last week, Twitter rolled out a new vision for its popular API program — promising a more “unified” API platform for developers to leverage Twitter’s public APIs to build applications. In a post on the company’s corporate blog, titled Building the Future of the Twitter API Platform, Twitter previewed several significant changes, including: A more unified API platform: Twitter acknowledged that its developer community has been somewhat split, since the company acquired social data provider Gnip, back in 2014. While a large portion of its developer base has continued to utilize Twitter’s standard REST and real-time streaming APIs, a growing number of larger companies have paid to access Gnip’s enterprise-grade APIs. Twitter explains: “Later this year, we’ll be launching a new developer experience that combines the free and easy access of the standard REST and streaming APIs with the enterprise-grade power and reliability of Gnip. The goal is to create an integrated Twitter API platform that serves everyone, from an individual developer testing a new idea to Twitter’s largest enterprise partners.”  New tiers of access: While Twitter will be unifying its platform, it will also be rolling out new tiers of access, based on the needs of its diverse developer base. This will include free tiers of access for testing ideas and building new products; and paid and enterprise access with increased functionality and rate limits to help organizations scale their ideas. New Data & Engagement APIs: Twitter previewed new APIs that will help businesses better leverage the incredible amount of user data on its platform. As Twitter explains: "Businesses rely on this public data to learn what products to build, how to market them, who their customers are, and what people think of their products and services. We’ll be launching new APIs to help developers build products that can unlock new insights for business." They also previewed new APIs that will help developers build applications focused on leveraging Twitter’s data for improved customer service and automation. A public roadmap for the future: One of the most noteworthy parts of Twitter’s 1,200+ word announcement was that, for the first time, the company published a public roadmap for the API program through early 2018. This included updates on new products that they have already delivered on in 2017, as well as an outline for new products and features that will be introduced throughout the rest of the year.

What does this latest announcement mean to you?

If you’re a developer that relies on Twitter’s public APIs to build, and scale your applications, the latest announcement offers a lot to be excited about for the future of the platform. But there are also a few important lessons that API providers can learn for building their own successful API program from Twitter’s latest announcement. Here are a few takeaways to consider:

1. Determine why your program exists

Before launching into what was new in its API platform, Twitter outlined the purpose of its API program and why it exists in the first place: "Our API platform enables us, through the help of our developer ecosystem, to serve use cases and encourage innovation that leads to a better experience for everyone on Twitter."  While this may seem like an obvious first step, many organizations jump into developing API programs without a clear vision for what they want to achieve. And while there are plenty of reasons for your organization to invest in building APIs, the success of that program will depend on understanding its purpose and delivering value to the people you are trying to attract. Are you trying to build partnerships on a smaller scale? Do you want to reach thousands of developers, and open new opportunities for innovation on your platform? Have a clear vision for your program before you get started.

2. Think through developer experience

Twitter’s most recent announcement is a clear example of the importance of developer experience in today’s API economy. Twitter itself has acknowledged that they have not always offered the best experience to developers building applications on their platform, and has taken steps to improve relationships with app developers. It’s move to unify its divided API programs into one platform, with different tiers of access, is a great example of how organizations should look to adapt their API programs based on the needs of their audiences. A great developer experience starts with understanding the different audiences that work with your API. Then, you can map out the how they will be working with your API and what they will need throughout their lifecycle with your API. In Twitter’s case, offering a free tier of access for developers to test out new ideas and start building new applications is a great entry point for them to provide a great developer experience right from the start.

3. Communicate clearly; effectively

APIs should be given the same first-class treatment as any piece of software or application your team delivers. And that means, just as you’d want to clearly communicate changes in your core products, you also want to clearly communicate with your API end users. Not every update will require a lengthy blog post, or highly publicized announcement to your base. But you should have a process in place to keep your end users informed of changes that will impact how they work with your API. This is where an API Management tool could come in handy, with quick access to the list of users who have consumed your API. And this is also where having an API lifecycle management solution in place is also important, to handle all the phases of the API lifecycle through planning, design, deployment, and deprecation.

4. Support your program with great documentation

Great developer experience starts with great API documentation. Behind the changes Twitter rolls out on its platform, there is helpful documentation for developers to understand how to work with Twitter’s services. API documentation is the information that is required to successfully consume and integrate with an API. This would be in the form of technical writing, code samples and examples for better understanding how to consume an API. A robust API documentation tool, like SwaggerHub, can help in this effort by providing a central platform for your team to design and document your API, with real-time visual rendering of documentation, fully-hosted documentation with zero setup, and a controlled workflow with forking, diffing and merging. However you manage your API documentation, make sure that your end consumers can easily access the information they need to be successful when working with your API. We’re excited to see what the future holds in store for Twitter’s API program. For more tips for building an API program for today’s API economy, check out our latest eBook: How to Optimize Your Swagger Workflow for Today’s API Economy.