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Elon Musk says Twitter will offer a free API tier for 'good' bots

He's backtracking on a decision to charge all users for API access.

Matt Cardy via Getty Images

After announcing last week that all developers would have to pay to access Twitter's API, CEO Elon Musk has walked that back a step. In a tweet yesterday, he announced that "responding to feedback, Twitter will enable a light, write-only API for bots providing good content that is free."

Since August of 2020, Twitter has offered a "basic" free tier as part of its V2 API, designed for "those just getting started, building something for fun, for a good cause, and to learn or teach," the company wrote at the time.

In January, however, Twitter revoked API access to third-party apps citing "long-standing rules." It then updated its developer terms banning third-party clients, effectively killing apps like Twitterific and Tweetbot. Finally last week, Twitter announced that all developers would have to pay to use its API, starting at around $100 per month for the basic tier.

That resulted in an outcry that the new rules would kill many fun and useful bots that create quotes around tweets, provide alerts for tech execs unfollowing each other, show the weather in random parts of the world and more. Many of the folks who run the bots told Buzzfeed they could never pay that amount to keep them running, so they'd simply disappear. "It was a fun thing, a thing that actually provided Twitter with more value," said the person behind @BigTechAlert, Álex Barredo.

It's unclear if Musk's Twitter will use something like the current basic tier. Also left unsaid so far is what might constitute "good content." If approval is required for each bot, that could be a challenge considering the company's severely downsized moderation team.

Musk has been on a mission to cut costs and find new sources of revenue for Twitter, after telling employees at one point that "bankruptcy is not out of the question." Around 80 percent of the company's full-time staff have been let go, leaving just 1,300 in total and fewer than 550 full-time engineers. At the same time, Twitter has introduced subscriptions and detailed plans to share ad revenue with creators.

However, Musk recently tweeted that Twitter is "now trending to breakeven," following several "extremely tough" months. The company still faces challenges, however, like advertisers reportedly fleeing in droves, class-action suits from employees and potential regulator scrutiny in the EU and elsewhere.