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Twitter's API paywall crumbles (but only for those saving lives, predicting weather, etc.)

Anyone else still has to pay for once-free service to help social network pay its bills

The paywall around Twitter's API has crumbled slightly, with the bird site U-turning for organizations providing a public service.

In a tweet yesterday, the Twitter Dev account said that Twitter's API has long found an important use case in its public utility. With that in mind, "verified gov or publicly owned services who tweet weather alerts, transport updates and emergency notifications may use the API, for these critical purposes, for free."

While it's not immediately clear what Twitter means by "verified" in this respect, it's safe to assume it's accounts with a grey checkmark, which indicates they're operated by a government-linked individual or entity.

The move comes after a number of accounts that provide transportation and emergency services said they were unable to provide automated alerts via Twitter, including several US National Weather Service accounts, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit, and New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). 

"For the MTA, Twitter is no longer reliable for providing the consistent updates riders expect. So as of today, we're saying goodbye to it for service alerts and information," said the authority.

San Fran's public transportation body, said: "Twitter has shut off its free API, and that means we are going dark until we can find a solution. We're very sorry to not be able to provide information on BART service alerts."

The various accounts directed users toward other emergency alert sources, like their websites, apps, and the like.

Responding to the Twitter u-turn, the MTA said it was glad that the platform biz got the message on the importance of free API access for public sector agencies. "In light of this reversal, we're assessing our options for service alerts going forward," it tweeted.

It costs how much?

Twitter announced plans to start charging for access to its API in early February, a week before it said the plan was set to go into effect. Twitter twice postponed the move before finally announcing prices and features in March.

Free API access was still available, but just for write-only uses and with steep limitations including 1,500 tweets per month. Paid "basic" access for $100 per month was expanded, but still limited to 50,000 posts per month at the app level and 3,000 posts per month at the user level.

It's been difficult to hammer down how much enterprise API access would cost, with numbers varying wildly from as little as a thousand dollars a month to as much as $42,000, $125,000, and $210,000 based on a slide deck leaked to the press.

We asked Twitter about its paid API structure, and how the announcement to provide free API access to public service accounts would work, and yet again received a poop emoji for our trouble. ®

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