Twitter’s API: A taste of honey?

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They say that a taste of honey is worse than none at all. Well some of the developers who built software using Facebook’s Ad API might just be starting to agree...

Why? Because as Facebook adds more and more functionality to its own advertising platform, so it erodes many of the reasons we had to use third party tools in the first place.

The Facebook ecosystem of third party developers has become the social monolith’s number one R&D resource... and now they’re starting to reap the benefits by taking in house many of the better ideas developed outside of their Menlo Park HQ. Will Twitter do the same a few years down the line?

Rewind to 2009 when early access to Facebook’s Ad API was an incredibly valuable pass to be granted. Many of the companies who built the first iterations of ad serving platforms (think Brighter Option, Ad Parlour, Vitrue et al) did very nicely from the wave of buy outs, mergers and acquisitions around that time as agencies and development houses came together.

But many others weren’t a part of that union and now they’re looking on helplessly as Facebook cherry picks the best parts of their products, and delivers that free of charge as improvements to their proprietary ad platform (instead of imposing the typical 5-10% charge of overall campaign spend levied by the 3rd party providers).

This isn’t an anti-Facebook rant; I love them from a personal and professional perspective, but I can imagine how it could feel like a callous blow to some businesses/development houses every time Facebook implements a ‘new’ piece of functionality to its initially rudimentary ad serving offering.

And while Facebook’s motto is ‘Move fast, Break Things’, I’m not sure that’s totally ringing true... they haven’t moved particularly fast here: Their first clunky Bulk Ad Uploader appeared a good number of years ago, and their latest refinement to ad serving (conversion tracking) happened in January of this year.

But they are breaking things – mainly the business models of third party Facebook ad serving platforms. By including the new, prettier multi-pane graphical user interface, power editing tools, conversion tracking and deeper analytics to their ad serving platform, Facebook are stealing the thunder of many third party providers – and giving it to us for free. Who’s going to argue with that?

The people who built that functionality in the first place, using Facebook’s Ad API, that’s who!

You could (and I would) argue that any business built on someone else’s API, and which doesn’t plan for ‘the hand that giveth’ taking away at some point is asking for trouble.

This is definitely something all developers and software houses need to be aware of as Twitter moves to build its own ecosystem of developers and third party tools to do more than let you post to Twitter. That ecosystem will grow fast, just as Twitter CEO Dick Costolo hinted at back in 2011.

Twitter’s announcement that they are finally opening up an Ads API of their own is the first really important development since 2007 when Facebook launched its application development platform.

It’s so important that it will make people sit up, listen and quickly want to figure out how to take advantage of it. The ones who get it right (and get it right early) will be wined and dined by any number of Social Media Sugar Daddies, but those who don’t get it (by ‘it’ I mean the product, the business model, the vision) right need to be aware of the social software wasteland that could be waiting for them as Twitter surveys their products, licks their lips, takes the best bits and leaves the rest.

I’m no programmer – I’m sure I’ve given that game away long before now, but I am involved in a number of products/companies that pull on APIs as their lifeblood. As such I (we) accept that we are beholden to the whims of the API provider – such is our lot in life.

But those businesses that provide APIs open up whole worlds of possibilities that would never be possible, and we all reap the benefits at some stage – whether as developers or consumers.

The fact is that those who develop and share their APIs deserve to get first dibs on what’s built using that API. As long as everyone knows that – and plans for that eventuality there can be no nasty surprises. In short, there is an ‘i’ in API... and it’s a big one. Twitter know that, Facebook know that, and we should know that too.

This post was written by Coup Media CEO Paul Shepherd

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.