There’s been no shortage of click-bait on the Internet last week about how the changes to Facebook’s API has affected Microsoft’s support for integration from Windows 8.1 and Windows Mobile. The reality is that this disconnection of synced contacts and email will have very little impact on Windows users unless they have a strong aversion to installing the official Facebook app. But while this story is largely much ado about nothing, the changes to the Facebook API are part of a growing trend with possibly ominous consequences.
The Goliaths of the Internet like Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix weren’t always the behemoths they are now. To grow their user base the services developed open APIs and invited the innovation of mobile and web developers as a means of increasing usage or making up for gaps in their own services. So what if Twitter’s mobile app wasn’t very good you could always use MetroTwit. Facebook was happy to manage social interactions and leave chat and video to Skype. And Netflix had one of the best movie and TV databases you could access directly in your application. APIs were open and their customer base grew.
As time marches on it seems inevitable that at some point they killed off all of their competition or they saturated the market such that growth was no longer a key driver. You’re not going to be able to maintain double digit growth forever in users on Facebook or Twitter, and so they justifiably move into maximizing the users you do have by offering new services. Twitter adds curated feeds to encourage higher level of interactions between existing users. Facebook stops using Skype and comes out with its own ad supported chat and video clients. An open API is now a risk to their sometimes struggling new services and so changes are made and third parties get cut out.
Twitter has chosen to limit the number of tweets a client application can send. This has caused many popular Twitter clients to shutter their doors completely. Facebook’s recent changes were designed to limit the functionality available to third party applications with Microsoft being just the most visible victim. Netflix simply shut off it’s public API completely. As the possibility for innovative third party products that would look to leverage the huge user bases of these services dwindles it’s the user who ultimately suffers.
But that’s not really the worst part. By not allowing for easy integration the big Internet services are putting up walls not just to keep third parties out but to keep users in. It’s an Apple-like lock into their ecosystem that makes challenging their position at the top of the Internet hill nearly impossible.
The good news is that walled gardens tend to crumble over time. The more that Twitter and Facebook do to limit their users ability to leverage exciting new services the more then ensure their eventual obsolescence. Or maybe it’s just me. Who wants pie?!