There’s a worrying new trend among social media platforms when it comes to APIs, and it threatens how the modern internet works for normal, everyday users.
If you’re not a programmer or developer, you might scroll whenever there’s an article about social media APIs. You may not know what they are. API stands for Application Programming Interface. Basically, they allow one application to access information and communicate with another application.
If you’ve ever used an unofficial third-party client like Apollo for Reddit or Twitterrific for Twitter, you’ve used an app that couldn’t exist without that social media platform’s API. Do you use an app like Hootsuite to post your content to social platforms? This is only possible thanks to APIs. Are you a streamer using third-party services like Streamlabs to advertise new subscribers live on screen? This works thanks to APIs.
However, recent moves by Twitter and Reddit to charge developers tens of thousands to millions of dollars for API access may destroy all of that.
So why should you care about what’s happening with APIs right now? Well, since the early days of social media, many platforms offered developers access to their APIs at no cost. Some form of free API access has been around for as long as social media. friend it had(opens in a new tab) this my space it had(opens in a new tab) this
There has long been a kind of unwritten rule that users provide data to these social media platforms through their content and usage, the platforms use that data to monetize and to prove that the platform didn’t own that data of the user, of third parties. Independent developers and startups were able to access this data freely to create cool and interesting apps for the benefit of the platforms and their users.
Reddit’s new API pricing could kill its most popular app with a $20 million bill
Now obviously in the interest of fair use and good faith there were some caveats. These platforms needed to ensure that bad actors did not use APIs to spam the platform or improperly access user data. And of course, if one of these third-party apps was successful and growing more than most, sometimes the platform would ask for a fair payment in order to properly serve that app with wider access while maintaining the quality of the app. service for all others.
All in all, in an era where a few social media platforms dominate the market, the system worked pretty well. Students, self-funded programmers, and independent developers alike were able to participate in this tech ecosystem because they could all afford to build on these already popular apps.
But then, earlier this year, Elon Musk decided to end free access to Twitter’s API. It was a worrying development, but not entirely out of the ordinary. Outside of social media, some online platforms require a paid subscription to access the API. Typically, these subscriptions start in the three-figure per month range, if not less. Developers were surprised, however, when Twitter finally shared Musk’s payment expectations: API access would start at $42,000 a month. Although attempts were made to negotiate with Twitter, the company refused to budge. Independently made Twitter apps, many of which actually encouraged more use of the platform and helped provide a healthier and more positive experience on the site, were forced to shut down. (Months later, Twitter would launch a $5,000-a-month plan that proved either too expensive for most developers or too late for those who were already shutting down their apps.)
Following Twitter’s lead, Reddit announced that it would also start charging for API access. Based on previous comments from the company, the developers thought that Reddit’s move was only put in place to monetize uses that don’t add to the Reddit experience. For example, companies building AI language models frequently use data scraps from social media platforms. The platform and its users see no benefit. In turn, these companies charge their own users for access to AI trained on this data. It makes sense for a platform to charge these AI companies for API access.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. The creator of the popular Reddit client Apollo shared the news earlier this week that Reddit’s paid API plans are affecting the app and would cost him $20 million a year, effectively putting Apollo out of business . This is an app that helps users access Reddit in a simplified way, which in turn makes them use Reddit month. Removing an app like this for possible short-term monetization gains makes no sense.
Again, APIs help developers gain access your data However, social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, which already use your data to monetize through advertisers, now want to charge exorbitant fees just to access your data
Which platform will be next? For starters, there are relatively few major social media platforms. What happens when they all want to box you into only using their official apps to access your own data? What happens to the tech industry when just a student developer can no longer afford to build apps and software?
If this trend continues, the Internet will look like a very different place in a few years.
The internet provides us with the essential ability to quickly and easily share information, ideas, and opinions with a broad audience. Recently, social media giants Twitter and Reddit have begun charging hefty fees for use of their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Unfortunately, this shift from free access to high-priced services is bad news for the internet’s future.
At Ikaroa, we understand the critical role of social media platforms in today’s interconnected world. APIs are just as essential for companies, organizations, and individuals who want to develop technology and gain access to rich data streams. To this end, the decision by Twitter and Reddit to charge for access betrays that spirit of collaboration and openness which are key components of the internet landscape.
Given the wide range of potential costs associated with Twitter and Reddit APIs, the cost barrier to entry could be prohibitive for many organizations and individuals. This could mean a potential exclusion from the internet of those of low socioeconomic means. Furthermore, this shift from open access to high-priced services may deter future innovators, who may be unable to afford the cost associated with large-scale tech projects.
At Ikaroa, we strive to ensure a free and open internet where everyone has access to the wealth of information and opportunities available. With this in mind, we support the establishment of new, reasonably priced access models that provide data access to social media platforms, while also addressing potential security concerns.
We hope that other social media platforms take notice of the potentially dire consequences that the high-priced APIs of Twitter and Reddit could bring to the internet’s future. In the meantime, we will continue to trailblaze the internet landscape through the development of affordable and innovative solutions that ensure open access to the internet’s riches.