Twitter vs Ecosystem
So Twitter is once again in some hot water with their developer community. After a well-intentioned, but poorly executed suggestion to their developer community that they stop working on developing clients and instead work on “vertical” ideas, the feedback they’ve received has been less than ideal. You can read the original post at “consistency and ecosystem opportunities“, and some of the media coverage here, here, and here.
Some developers are understanding, others are irate, and many are still pretty confused about what exactly this all means. I guess I’d put myself in the 3rd (“confused”) group. But I guess the one thing I do know, is that it is clear these “suggestions” and TOS updates are directed at UberMedia in order to prevent them from forking their portion of the Twitter user base. But, now the rest of the community has now unfairly been dragged into the mix.
As someone who has been doing development on Twitter-related projects since 2007, I figured I’d throw my 2 cents into the mix and give Twitter an idea of where they went wrong, and how they can fix it. I figured it was worth a repost here on my blog.
My 2 cents…
The reason for the perceived mixed messages for some of us is because many developers don’t, and never have been interested in doing Twitter development as a business. I’ve created a dozen Twitter clients & apps over the last 5 years, some of which received enough users and press coverage that I could have attempted to turn it into a business, but I didn’t. Why? Because it doesn’t interest me. I do it for the challenge and the learning experience.
So, the things we hear Twitter saying are “Don’t build clients anymore” as well as “Client apps make bad business”. Well, first, as long as the APIs are active and it’s not against the TOS, I’m still going to build, develop, and use my own clients. Second, I don’t care that it makes “bad business”, that’s isn’t a concern to me. Third, developers can determine for themselves what seems like a smart business decision or not. Fourth, frankly, Twitter Inc has never been regarded as an expert in monetization strategies.
Plus, this is info we already knew. For the most part, building a company whose main product is a Twitter client hasn’t been a good business decision for a few years (if ever, outside of a lucky few). But on the other hand, there are still markets where it could be good business. For example, where is the official Twitter client for webOS? Messages like “Don’t build clients anymore” and no official Twitter app on webOS does nothing but hurt the ecosystem for thousands of users. If I were a developer for one of the popular webOS clients, I’d be pretty pissed right now. Heck, as a webOS user I’m not thrilled. I’m sure this is applicable to other ecosystems too.
The point is, Twitter should be more vocal about what it is going to do as opposed to coy suggestions to developers (which some perceive as threats) about what they shouldn’t do. Twitter is going to heavily focus on front-end user experiences across all platforms? Great! Leave it at that. Let developers decide for themselves what are good/bad ideas. Just arm us with the knowledge of your plans, and we’ll worry about our own.
Finally, Twitter, you should be excited to compete with your developers. Much of the innovation over the years has been a product of the developer & user community. Things like mentions & hashtags came from your users. Features like saved searches, lists, trends, and ajax driven clients were inventions of developers years before they made it into Twitter.com. Essentially, “New” Twitter is just a compilation of the best features from all the 3rd party clients. Do not be hostile. Do not attack them with your TOS. Do not suspend tokens without working with the developer first. Doing these things hurts the community, which in turn hurts you. Your users are your product. Not your platform. Not your website. Not your ads. Your users.