3 min read

The High Costs of X and Reddit APIs Spell Trouble

The High Costs of X and Reddit APIs Spell Trouble

A less enjoyable and more expensive online landscape could be on the horizon. A worrying trend is emerging among social media platforms, one that could jeopardize the functionality of the modern internet for everyday users.

For those who aren't programmers or developers, discussions about social media APIs may often go unnoticed. You might not be familiar with what APIs are. API stands for "application programming interface," essentially, it enables one application to access and communicate with another application.

Social Platforms & APIs

If you've ever used an unofficial third-party client like Apollo for Reddit or Twitterrific for Twitter, you've used an app that relies on the social media platform's API. Do you utilize a tool like Hootsuite to post content across multiple social platforms? It's made possible through APIs. Are you a livestreamer using third-party services like Streamlabs to display new subscribers live on-screen? It's thanks to APIs.

X and Reddit Charging for API Access

However, recent developments from X (Twitter but, really, are we doing this?) and Reddit, where they're charging developers tens of thousands to millions of dollars for API access, pose a significant threat to this ecosystem.

Why Do SMMs Care if API's are $$$?

So, why should you be concerned about what's happening with APIs right now? Well, since the early days of social media, many platforms provided developers with free access to their APIs. In some form or another, free API access has been available as long as social media has existed. Friendster had it. MySpace had it.

There was an unspoken agreement that users would provide these social media platforms with data through their content and usage. Platforms would then use this data for monetization, and to ensure they didn't claim ownership over user data, third-party indie developers and startups were allowed to access this data freely, creating innovative apps that benefited both platforms and users.

Of course, there were some caveats to ensure fair use and prevent bad actors from spamming the platforms or mishandling user data. If a third-party app became exceptionally successful, the platform might negotiate a fair payment to provide broader access while maintaining quality of service for all users.

Overall, this system worked relatively well in an era where a handful of social media giants dominate the market. Students, self-funded programmers, and indie developers could participate in this tech ecosystem because they could afford to build on these already popular apps.

Elon Ended Twitter's Free API Access

But earlier this year, Elon Musk ended Twitter's free API access. While this was concerning, it wasn't entirely unexpected. Some online platforms require paid subscriptions for API access outside social media, typically starting in the three-figure per month range.

However, developers were taken aback when Twitter revealed Musk's payment expectations: API access would begin at $42,000 per month. Despite efforts to negotiate with Twitter, the company remained unyielding. Indie-made Twitter apps, many of which enhanced the platform's use and contributed to a healthier, more positive experience, were forced to shut down.

(Months later, Twitter introduced a $5,000 per month plan, which proved to be either too expensive for most developers or too late for those who had already closed their apps.)

Reddit Charging for API Access

Following Twitter's lead, Reddit also announced plans to charge for API access. Initially, developers thought Reddit's move aimed to monetize uses that didn't contribute to the Reddit experience.

For instance, companies training AI language models often rely on extensive data from social media platforms, which doesn't directly benefit the platform or its users. In turn, these companies charge their users to access AI trained on that data. It would make sense for the platform to charge these AI companies for API access.

Regrettably, this isn't the case. The creator of the popular Reddit client Apollo revealed this week that Reddit's paid API plans would cost him $20 million annually, effectively forcing Apollo out of business. Apollo is an app that streamlines Reddit access for users, leading to increased Reddit use. Shutting down an app like this, which drives user engagement, for short-term monetization gains doesn't seem rational.

APIs, DAta, and Social Media

Once again, APIs help developers access your data. Yet, social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, which already monetize your data through advertisers, now want to charge exorbitant fees just for developers to access that data.

What... Next?

The question arises: Which platform will be next? There are relatively few major social media platforms to begin with. What happens when all of them want to confine users to their official apps to access their own data? What will become of the tech industry when only student developers can no longer afford to create apps and software?

If this trend persists, the internet could transform significantly in just a few years.

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