My article “Objects of intense feeling: The case of the Twitter API“, has just been published online in Computational Culture: a journal of software studies.
Despite the proliferation of social media research in the past decade, surprisingly little has been said about the role of application programming interfaces (APIs) – the protocological objects enabling the ‘regimes of sharing’ characteristic of these media platforms. APIs are used, but seldom critically scrutinized as such. Developing a software studies approach, this article engages with the ways in which the stuff of software – in this case APIs – can be said to allow for, encourage, or block certain kinds of actions and relations. Exploring the particular case of the Twitter APIs, and drawing on qualitative interviews with members of its third-party developer ecosystem, this article asks how APIs form and hold relations together and how we may understand the coordinative work that these protocols do. Seeing APIs as reminiscent of what Michel Serres’ terms the quasi-object, the notion that objects act as catalysts for various social relations and actions, provides an interpretative framework for investigating the organizing potentials of protocological objects. The argument is made that the Twitter APIs constitute objects of intense feeling – highly meaningful entities that are invested with various forms of contestation and identification, desires and disappointments. The Twitter APIs do not merely give rise to new collectives, enlisting different actors to engage in different types of work. The APIs also regulate the playing field of what can happen where and when, what can be built technically, and policy-wise, by constituting an infrastructure for innovation and sharing.