In February of 2023, controversy struck when new Twitter owner Elon Musk announced that developers using the previously-free Twitter API would now be required to pay for its use. The cheapest package was announced to be $42,000 per month for access to 50 million tweets, which unsurprisingly has driven off an enormous amount of researchers and developers who can no longer afford to use the tool. In April of the same year, Reddit.com also announced that their API would no longer be free, charging $12,000 per 50 million requests. This decision too was met with intense criticism, as developers of multiple third-party apps were forced to shut down their services due to the cost.
Rather than trying to weigh in on this debate, let’s look at what an API is, why they are so essential for many of these third-party developers, and why they have quickly become unaffordable.
Firstly, an Application Programming Interface, or API, is an agreed-upon set of protocols that allow for the transfer of data between applications. It functions as an intermediary between systems, allowing for companies to open their application’s data to other pieces of software. This works by providing the framework for the external system to request specific data (known as a “call”), and receive the requested info (the “response”). Let’s look at Reddit for an example.
The Reddit API allows for third-party apps to request and receive data such as posts, comments, videos, etc. to be used on their own application. The app RedReader, for example, pulls information from Reddit and displays it in a way that is more accessibility-friendly than the normal site. To do this, the app must make calls for data to be sent from Reddit servers, which it uses to update its own app.
Here lies the debate regarding paid vs. free APIs; they provide the valuable ability to integrate proprietary software with external applications, the controversy surrounds how valuable this ability actually is. On one side, an API should ideally be profitable for the company designing it to offset the cost of development and to monetize the use of the company’s data. On the other hand, the trend of extremely high prices set by platforms such as Twitter and Reddit have kicked out many smaller development teams, especially those who use the data for non-commercial work. In an interview with Wired, Kenneth Joseph, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, explained that his work of analyzing how people use Twitter has effectively been ended by the eye-watering costs of use.
The correct answer to the question of how valuable an API is can often depend entirely on which side of the argument you’re on: company executives will state that the use of their data is something that cannot be provided for free, while developers and researches are adamant that such extreme pricing has made their use unaffordable. In the future, as the amount of available data continues to grow, this debate is surely to come around again.
Binder, Matt. “Twitter’s API Keeps Breaking, Even for Developers Paying $42,000.” Mashable, 29 June 2023, mashable.com/article/twitter-api-elon-musk-developer-issues-apps.
IBM. “What Is an Application Programming Interface (API) | IBM.” Www.ibm.com, 2023, http://www.ibm.com/topics/api.
Red Hat. “What Is an API?” Redhat, 2 June 2022, http://www.redhat.com/en/topics/api/what-are-application-programming-interfaces.
Roach, Jacob. “Why Everyone Is Freaking out about the Reddit API Right Now.” Digital Trends, 14 June 2023, http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/reddit-api-changes-explained/.
Stokel-Walker, Chris. “Twitter’s $42,000-Per-Month API Prices out Nearly Everyone.” Wired, 10 Mar. 2023, http://www.wired.com/story/twitter-data-api-prices-out-nearly-everyone/.
From the blog Butler Software Construction, Design, and Architecture by Griffin Butler and used with permission of the author. All other rights reserved by the author.