Social media businesses should not charge* for APIs. If a company
like Reddit or Twitter derives most of its value from content that users
write for free then it must provide APIs for anyone to download and
manipulate that content. While an interactive API that enables third
party applications is desirable, a simple static dump is the bare
minimum to fulfill the social contract (see StackOverflow or Metafilter for
examples.)

Unfortunately Twitter and Reddit don’t agree. They are both rent
seeking with their APIs. Their main intent is to destroy third party
apps that no longer aid the company’s business goals. But they’re also
trying to make a few million bucks a year licensing access to data,
particularly on the back of AI training. It’s wrong.

The key thing here is social media sites don’t produce content. They
merely host it. Millions of users create the content expecting it will
be widely available. Locking down an API breaks that social
contract.

Honestly I don’t care as much about full fledged third party clients like
Apollo or Tweetbot; I like them but I understand why the companies want to kill them.
What I care about more are analytics sites, things that provide
interesting alternative views like a
Reddit user profile
or Emoji
tracking
. I also think it is the greater good to let AIs train for
free.

*I don’t mind a site charging a nominal fee for API access. Either to
cover the cost of API service itself, or more importantly to encourage
API developers to be efficient when making API requests. But that’s
hundreds to thousands of dollars a year, not millions.

The short sighted thing about these API fees is they will harm the
company in the long term. If it becomes difficult to use a proper API to
get at content folks will simply screen scrape it instead. That’s bad
for everyone.

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