Twitter Reinstates Free API Access for Public Service Providers in the App

Back in November, as he moved into his new role as Chief Twit, Elon Musk noted that:

Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months.

We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 9, 2022

He’s certainly held true to that, with a raft of changes that have been criticized as short-sighted, self-destructive and just plain stupid – though to Musk’s credit, he has also held to the second part as well, by reversing various updates as a result of such backlash.  

Which has happened again today, with Twitter announcing that public utilities will be able to re-access Twitter’s API for free.

One of the most important use cases for the Twitter API has always been public utility. Verified gov or publicly owned services who tweet weather alerts, transport updates and emergency notifications may use the API, for these critical purposes, for free.

— Twitter Dev (@TwitterDev) May 2, 2023

Twitter increased the price of its API access last month, with many organizations and developers who had previously been able to access Twitter connectivity for free now being asked to pay upwards of $40k per month for similar access.

That’s led to a range of Twitter tools, info bots, and other supplementary services shutting down, including some third-party posting apps, system update tools like Steam’s platform status bot, the removal of WordPress auto-tweet for blog posts, and many more.

Among those, public information tools, like Twitter accounts run by the National Weather Service and public transport updates have also been shut down, cutting off important awareness tools from the app. Which seems backwards, if you want to maximize utility – which Twitter how now recognized by reversing its decision to charge these providers.

Now it’ll just need to work with the relevant providers to get them back up and running as normal in the app.

The MTA, for one, has welcomed the reversal.

Glad that Twitter got the message. We’re happy that they’ve committed to making API access free for the MTA and other public sector agencies.

In light of this reversal, we’re assessing our options for service alerts going forward.

— MTA (@MTA) May 2, 2023

It’s another misstep from Twitter, which has seen it back-tracking – which, again, Musk has said is going to happen, and they are rectifying some of these decisions as they go. But it’s the type of thing that wouldn’t happen if Twitter took more time to consider the full implications of its policies, rather than acting on the whims of Musk, who generally seems to operate out of sheer spite or personal grievance.

In this case, the culprit appears to be OpenAI, which had been using Twitter data to train the AI models behind its ChatGPT service. Musk was an early investor in OpenAI, giving the company $100 million when it was operating as a non-profit, but now that it’s selling access to its systems, and making billions as a result, Musk is upset that his donation has gone unrewarded, and that he’s essentially helped fund the development of a company which he doesn’t directly benefit from.

The expanded context here is that in addition to being an investor, Musk had also sought to become OpenAI’s CEO back in 2018, as he felt that the company was falling behind Google in the AI race, and that he could right the ship. OpenAI’s founders rejected Musk’s takeover push, which led to Musk distancing himself from the project, and reneging on future funding that he had pledged to the organization.

With this in mind, Musk, now in control of Twitter, was reportedly plenty annoyed that OpenAI, and potentially other AI companies, were still able to access Twitter data through the API, which is at least part of why he’s now upped the price of API access, and cut many smaller players out of the market.

The expanded impacts of that decision, aside from cutting off valuable pubic information services, are not yet clear, but it could lead to a lot less reliance on Twitter as a distribution platform, which, over time, may further impact Twitter engagement.

But at least Twitter has seen the light on this front, and will update its policies accordingly – though again, it’s another example of reduced oversight and industry knowledge at the app, with all of its most experienced former leaders now gone, leaving Twitter more at the direction of Musk, whose self-confidence and impulsion can sometimes be misplaced.

Case in point: Musk is also reportedly threatening to sell the @NPR handle to the highest bidder if NPR holds firm on its decision not to return to the app. That could lead to more instances of misinformation and confusion, adding to the mess caused by Twitter’s blue checkmark reformation.

It’s hard to bet against Musk, given the past successes he’s seen at his other companies, but as time goes on, it’s also hard to back him as well, as more examples of his often chaotic management style are shared in public.

Maybe, this is all part of some bigger plan that we just can’t see. But maybe not, probably not.

We’ll find out in the coming months.

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