Twitter Nixes JSON Share Count API

Twitter this week warned publishers and partners that it is prepared to refresh the Tweet button. The button itself will be refreshed with a simpler, high-contrast design. While the new button itself my be a curiosity to design wonks, the changes being made to the underyling code are far more impactful. 

According to Twitter, it is "simplfying" the Tweet button by removing the share counter that's typically displayed next to the button. The revised button removes the count parameters, but will render in the same dimensions as the previous button. So what, you might be thinking, who cares? Content creators, that's who. 

The Tweet button has pulled share count data by pinging JSON endpoints hosted across various domans, says Twitter. Developers have been accessing these private endpoints for years in order to discern URL share counts. Twitter said the JSON endpoints are being shut down in November and the share count data will go up in smoke when the endpoints are finally offline. Twitter says its REST APIsTrack this API are the best way to snag Tweet-related data.  

"The 'count API' has never existed as part of our public, supported and documented API endpoints," explains Twitter in a blog post. "It was only intended for use by our own web widgets. We’ve often cautioned in our developer forums that use of such undocumented endpoints shouldn’t be relied upon, as we cannot commit to supporting them."

More to the point, there is in fact a techincal reason why the undocumented API will be removed: it's out-dated. Tweet share counts are generated using Cassandra. Thanks to its ongoing effort to simplify its internal systems, Twitter is migrating away from Cassandra to Manhattan, its real-time, multi-tenant distributed database. Right now, Tweet count is one of the last features actually still running on Cassandra.

"Like all engineering organizations, we have to make tradeoffs," said Twitter. "The choices are to deprecate the feature, or rebuild it on a more modern tech stack. Rebuilding has its own costs, and would delay our work on other, more impactful offerings for our developer community. After talking to several of the top customers affected, we chose to not continue the feature." 

That may be little consolation to those who rely on Tweet counts to generate information about their content. 

For example, the Tweet button will no longer show web site visitors how many times a particular post has been shared. This may or may not impact interactions with that post. People who promote Tweets will no longer have a way to prove that their efforts have been successful. It's hard to gauge just how large the impact will be within third-party apps, but it could be significant. 

Remember, remember the 20th of November, for that is the day the JSON endpoints go dark.

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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