(Credit: Twitter)

From its early days, Twitter has lets third parties hook into the social network via an application programming interface, or API, for things like embedding a tweet on a web page, but the API can also be used to create alternative (and sometimes better) versions of Twitter itself.

Today, the company announced that it's imposing some big restrictions on how much activity these alternate Twitter apps can engage in, as well as beefing up the approval process for their creation.

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Now, parties who want access to the Twitter API must apply for an actual developer account, which requires the disclosure of "detailed information about how they use or intend to use Twitter's APIs so that we can better ensure compliance with our policies."

As far as activity levels go, these apps will now be restricted to no more than 300 tweets and retweets every 3 hours, 1,000 likes a day, 1,000 follows per day, and 15,000 direct messages, or DMs, per day. However, Twitter says that it's willing to work with some developers on a case-by-case basis.

Developers who are already using the API will not have to submit an application for a developer account right away, but Twitter says that they will eventually, though it will give them at least 90 days' notice.

Twitter characterizes these changes as being part of an accelerated timeline, saying, "[P]rotecting our platform and people using Twitter from abuse and manipulation is our highest priority."

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Historically, there's been quite a contrast between the apparent level of bot and spam activity on Twitter and Twitter's willingness to acknowledge the issue or its extent. But lately, the company has been on the warpath against fake accounts, deleting tens of millions in the space of a few weeks, indicating a change in approach.

Twitter knows better than any of us which apps these fake accounts were using, so it's probably not a coincidence that this new API policy comes on the heels of a massive account purge. After all, the most reliable way to get rid of a weed is to pull it out by the roots.

Twitter also invites users to report a third-party app if they see one "produce spam, invade user privacy, or otherwise violate our rules."

The takeaways

  1. Twitter is imposing new restrictions on who can make third-party apps that connect to its platform, and how much activity those apps can engage in each day, in the interest of reducing spam and the influence of fake accounts.
  2. Developers who are already using Twitter's API will not have to apply for a proper developer account yet, but all of them will eventually.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.