There's nothing surprising in the changes Twitter announced today.
They telegraphed clearly, a long time ago that they were phasing out their earlier developer program. Earlier this year Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said they wanted more content flowing into Twitter and less flowing out of it. So of course that meant that they would cut back on API access. If anyone had been building on these resources, they now face a setback, but it was one they could have seen coming.
Twitter could have been something very different from what it's becoming. That's neither good nor bad. Every business has an opportunity to define itself, by what they do as well as by what they don't do. Twitter has had very strong positions like the 140-character limit and the decision to put links in the text that users type. These have become such fixtures that we hardly notice them. But different decisions could have been made, and a different environment would have resulted.
When Twitter pulls back from features, they create room for new potentially valuable networked products and services that are radically different from Twitter, with different tradeoffs. I think we're at the point in the evolution of the net where there will be a lot of experimentation, in part fueled by the new space Twitter is opening up for competition. It's good for innovation. I think we may well be getting unstuck in some very big areas, very soon, as a result of the changing developer landscape.
See Media Hackers for an idea of what can be done with news, entirely outside of Twitter, based on flows in RSS, Atom, XML and JSON, all of which are strong open formats with huge content flow from professional news organizations, bloggers, universities, schools of all sizes, scientific institutions, corporations, non-profits, media networks and government agencies.
It's important to note that none of this is in any way subject to Twitter's terms. None of these feeds or JSON rivers will stop flowing because Twitter is placing limits on its own ecosystem.
There are new projects from many developers that look promising. I believe there will be strong reasons the new projects will want to share user content more fluidly as a way to compete with the giant companies that are trying to carve out private areas of the Internet, as Twitter is.
Working together is how new markets are always created. There's lots of new stuff in the pipe, much reason for optimism and excitement. :-)