Twitter API Lead Changes Priorities With New Book

UPDATE: Be sure to see Alex’s comment below for his view on this.

twitter_logo_s-2.jpgI am a huge fan of Twitter, regardless of what I say or ever complain about. As a developer of Twitter apps, I want to see it succeed. However, I will sound the warning bell when I see things happen that could detrimentally affect the service. A post on his personal blog today by Twitter’s API Lead, Alex Payne, has me concerned. In the post, he announces that he’s writing a book, and ironically, the book has nothing to do with Twitter development.

In the post, Alex announces he’s writing a book on a new, JVM-based language called Scala. He did a presentation on it awhile back at C4, talking about why he was supporting it and why it was a good language. Alex is a smart guy, and it would seem he’s a very appropriate author for such a book, but in his blog post he mentions nothing about what is going to happen with his work at Twitter – what are his priorities after he begins writing this book?

In development for my own site, SocialToo, I’ve dealt quite a bit with Alex, so I know he’s a hard worker. He’s answered my e-mails in the middle of the night, and even over the weekend. He’s always talking to the Twitter development list and lately seems to be doing a great job interacting with developers.

As an author of 2 books, one of them O’Reilly, I’m a bit worried Alex’s priorities may be shifting. Writing a book is no easy task, and especially not an easy task to maintain a full-time job at a very time-consuming startup that still doesn’t have its API squared away. He should expect to spend several weeks in a row, full-time, writing, editing, and re-editing the book. It’s not very easy to write a book in your spare time – he should expect his focus at Twitter to diminish. There’s no avoiding it – that’s why O’Reilly gives authors an advance, so they can support themselves during the time they are writing the book. O’Reilly has tough deadlines to get books to print in time.

So, seeing perhaps the most important player in Twitter’s API development completely shift their focus after posts like this one last week by Alex himself, I can’t help but wonder where the priorities are at Twitter and who’s actually working. Does this mean we’ll never see them open the firehose? As a Twitter developer, I’m truly worried about this announcement.

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25 thoughts on “Twitter API Lead Changes Priorities With New Book

  1. I've heard nothing but amazing things about Scala and have been looking forward to a book about it for a long time. If Alex can handle the workload it's a win for developers. Best of luck to him.

    Like

  2. Bryan, the problem is Alex is already up late hours of the night
    working on Twitter API problems. The Twitter API is not anywhere
    close to being in order. There's no way he can write a book now
    without it hurting his work on the Twitter API. We need his focus on
    the API.

    Like

  3. As someone who has known Alex for just over a decade, I am more than confident that he is up to the challenge. He's not only an able coder but unlike some in his field, has quite a way with words.

    I have no doubt that writing about Scala will be an enjoyable side project for him that will let him work the english-language half of his brain.

    Leave the man alone.

    Like

  4. Andrew, I like Alex too, and I think he's very capable, but the
    Twitter API is far from being anywhere near in shape. Perhaps he
    should focus on the book after things are in order? He's already up
    late hours of the night working on the API.

    Like

  5. With all due respect, this is a matter for Twitter, the book's publisher, and Alex himself. Nobody works 24/7 on any job (this coming from a startup-employed guy leaving a blog comment at 2:30 AM), and if he wants to take the time he's not working on Twitter to give a book to the emerging Scala community, I don't see where the gripe is. You said he's a hard worker who answers your emails quickly no matter what time. Sounds like a guy who has no problems working hard. Everybody wants Twitter to be the best it can possibly be, but what Alex does in his non-Twitter time is really none of your business or mine.

    Like

  6. Not to be a jerk, but things are never “in order” the way one would like.

    Maybe, just maybe, (and I haven't asked, because it's not my place) it is possible that he'd want to do something in addition to working on the Twitter API. He's done quite a bit and maybe would like a diversion. Maybe he'd like a more normal lifestyle. Again, I haven't talked to him. Maybe I'll ask. But really, it's none of my damn business.

    Single-mindedness on projects is commendable. But you have to remember he doesn't work for you. He works for Twitter. And if Twitter had any problem with this, it wouldn't be happening.

    I see nothing about this but unneeded criticism. If you see the API go completely to hell, then raise the issue. But don't complain because he has an opportunity to do something he'll obviously enjoy.

    Like

  7. Andrew, I'm raising this because the API *is* a mess right now. I get
    400 bad request errors regularly, random blank pages back from the
    API. It takes me 5-10 minutes for some users to get back a list of
    all their friends or followers. There is no way to get access to the
    real-time feed right now (the firehose). It takes me 15 requests to
    accomplish what it should take 1 request to do in the API. I was fine
    that Twitter was working on these problems, but what bothers me is
    that Twitter is allowing this to happen. It's nothing against Alex –
    it's that Twitter is allowing the head of something that's still a
    disaster to take a break to do something that itself is a full-time
    job. Again, my problem's not with Alex – it's Twitter management
    itself.

    Like

  8. Your point is perfectly valid. But it should come in a straightforward criticism of management — not the coder who was offered a good opportunity to do something interesting. If management is running too loose a ship you should attack management, not the coders. And the management might need attacking. But the way you raised it made it seem to be focused more on one person than the company he works for. I'm going to bed. Not because I don't want to keep defending my friend, but because it's 3am on the east coast. Still, go after the management, not the coders if you think they're running a loose ship.

    Like

  9. Andrew, Alex is management – he's the main guy in charge of the entire
    API. He has as much responsibility as the rest. I realize he's your
    friend – I like him too, but I think taking on the book at this time
    is a mistake.

    I would have commented on his blog, but he told me he wanted blog
    posts to respond to his blog posts rather than enabling comments.

    Like

  10. Jesse,

    Normally, I wouldn't comment on a post like this, but this is a bit beyond the pale.

    To put it bluntly: what I do with my free time is not your business. If I had blogged about having a child, taking up a sport, or practicing an instrument, there would be no blog post to be found in any of that. I'm writing a book in my free time – that is, beyond the 50+ hour weeks I routinely put in for Twitter, calculated before I spend my nights and weekends answering questions from developers like you.

    As it so happens, my employers were instrumental in convincing me that I should take on this book project. They'll be happy to have another published technical author on staff, as it's good for Twitter's overall reputation as an engineering organization. My coworkers have offered their support in the form of technical reviews. Nobody feels shortchanged for my time because of this endeavor.

    Furthermore, note that I've taken on the project with a co-author. A book is a large project, but ours is a book of manageable size, divided between two authors over a nine month time frame. It takes mere hours out of the personal time in my week. Personal time that I should not have to justify to any reasonable person.

    Finally, just because you're having trouble with our API does not mean it's deficient. Certainly, the current version of the API has inconsistencies and lacking features that we've acknowledged. We regularly share our progress towards a more consistent and reliable implementation of the API, and we're on our way towards it. But in the meantime, literally hundreds of applications have successfully made use of the Twitter API for commercial, open source, and academic uses. More frequently than not, we close bugs that are caused by client-side or developer error. Just the other day I spoke to a developer who was cursing up a storm about how the Twitter API was a mess, its developers incompetent, and our security utterly broken. It turned out that said developer had misconfigured his HTTP client. He was surprisingly cordial once he realized his mistake.

    I'm as committed as ever to the Twitter API. Being able to spend my free time writing on a subject I enjoy is a great way for me to unwind and exercise a different part of my brain. But, at the end of the day, what I do my with my free time is not your nor anyone else's business. In the future, please be respectful of other's personal lives. Not everyone who works in “social media” exists at your beck and call.

    Like

  11. Alex, you shared this on your blog, viewable to the public. If it was
    no one's business, why are you sharing it with the world?

    As a developer on the Twitter API I have a vested interest in seeing
    it succeed. It's very much my “business” (aka I intend to make money
    off this!) that Twitter is doing the best it can to keep the API in
    top shape. I agree Twitter needs expertise on staff for their own
    benefit, and a published author makes them look good. However, I
    still argue there are many very public issues still with the API which
    have yet to be worked out – I only listed a few with Andrew. Seeing
    such a time-invested activity such as writing a book is not very
    comforting to someone invested in this. Twitter should have much
    higher priorities than ensuring they have published book authors on
    staff. It's my $.02 – take it or leave it.

    Like

  12. I posted on Twitter that I bought my fiancee a ring. Does that make it appropriate for my clients of employer to question my priorities publicly? If this was really a concern, a private inquiry would have been far more appropriate.

    This is beyond tacky. You owe Alex an apology.

    Like

  13. I haven't read your blog before, but I followed a link on twitter to this.

    I hope you're not in management. Most people need a life outside of work. In fact, having an interesting and stimulating life outside of work will make most people happier and more productive when they are at work.

    What you're saying to Alex would be like your boss saying to you, “You're blogging, going to church, and spending time with family and friends when you could be working. Your work would be so much better if you'd just spend that time on it as well.” Do you think that would be fair? What would your reaction be to that?

    Like

  14. Not to get into an unending back-and-forth over this, but please note that I posted about the book on my _personal_blog. Had I been using the Twitter Technology Blog or some other Twitter-owned outlet (that is, other than my Twitter account, which inherently bridges the personal and the professional) to promote my book, I'd understand your concern. I share plenty about my life and my side-projects on my personal blog, and I shouldn't have to worry about being attacked for doing so.

    Rest assured that Twitter takes the API seriously. We have two full-time engineers on it and a number of others at our disposal, and we'll continue to grow the team over time. The API is a top-level concern for the company along with user experience, operations, back-end services, and so forth. There are outstanding issues with the API, and that's what we deal with during our plentiful work weeks.

    Like

  15. Since Alex's blog doesn't have comments enabled. I am going to use this space to congratulate him on his new book. that being said, i think jesse you need to lay off. Alex has bent over backwards to accommodate developers like us, and if he wants to write a book in his spare time, and not be up at 3am on a sunday replying to developer questions on the google group, then so be it. I don't really know what Scala is, but hope i can get a copy of the book to find out 🙂

    Like

  16. Jesse,

    You're wrong. With age and maturity, you'll see that.
    Alex doesn't have to hide from the world. He can blog to his
    audience of friends anything he wants to.
    You have NO idea how this shop of very bright folks
    (both in business and technically), manages and delegates
    duties on the API team.

    Like

  17. Jesse,

    You're wrong. With age and maturity, you'll see that.
    Alex doesn't have to hide from the world. He can blog to his
    audience of friends anything he wants to.
    You have NO idea how this shop of very bright folks
    (both in business and technically), manages and delegates
    duties on the API team.

    Like

  18. I posted on Twitter that I bought my fiancee a ring. Does that make it appropriate for my clients of employer to question my priorities publicly? If this was really a concern, a private inquiry would have been far more appropriate.

    This is beyond tacky. You owe Alex an apology.

    Like

  19. Jesse,

    Normally, I wouldn't comment on a post like this, but this is a bit beyond the pale.

    To put it bluntly: what I do with my free time is not your business. If I had blogged about having a child, taking up a sport, or practicing an instrument, there would be no blog post to be found in any of that. I'm writing a book in my free time – that is, beyond the 50+ hour weeks I routinely put in for Twitter, calculated before I spend my nights and weekends answering questions from developers like you.

    As it so happens, my employers were instrumental in convincing me that I should take on this book project. They'll be happy to have another published technical author on staff, as it's good for Twitter's overall reputation as an engineering organization. My coworkers have offered their support in the form of technical reviews. Nobody feels shortchanged for my time because of this endeavor.

    Furthermore, note that I've taken on the project with a co-author. A book is a large project, but ours is a book of manageable size, divided between two authors over a nine month time frame. It takes mere hours out of the personal time in my week. Personal time that I should not have to justify to any reasonable person.

    Finally, just because you're having trouble with our API does not mean it's deficient. Certainly, the current version of the API has inconsistencies and lacking features that we've acknowledged. We regularly share our progress towards a more consistent and reliable implementation of the API, and we're on our way towards it. But in the meantime, literally hundreds of applications have successfully made use of the Twitter API for commercial, open source, and academic uses. More frequently than not, we close bugs that are caused by client-side or developer error. Just the other day I spoke to a developer who was cursing up a storm about how the Twitter API was a mess, its developers incompetent, and our security utterly broken. It turned out that said developer had misconfigured his HTTP client. He was surprisingly cordial once he realized his mistake.

    I'm as committed as ever to the Twitter API. Being able to spend my free time writing on a subject I enjoy is a great way for me to unwind and exercise a different part of my brain. But, at the end of the day, what I do my with my free time is not your nor anyone else's business. In the future, please be respectful of other's personal lives. Not everyone who works in “social media” exists at your beck and call.

    Like

  20. Your point is perfectly valid. But it should come in a straightforward criticism of management — not the coder who was offered a good opportunity to do something interesting. If management is running too loose a ship you should attack management, not the coders. And the management might need attacking. But the way you raised it made it seem to be focused more on one person than the company he works for. I'm going to bed. Not because I don't want to keep defending my friend, but because it's 3am on the east coast. Still, go after the management, not the coders if you think they're running a loose ship.

    Like

  21. Not to be a jerk, but things are never “in order” the way one would like.

    Maybe, just maybe, (and I haven't asked, because it's not my place) it is possible that he'd want to do something in addition to working on the Twitter API. He's done quite a bit and maybe would like a diversion. Maybe he'd like a more normal lifestyle. Again, I haven't talked to him. Maybe I'll ask. But really, it's none of my damn business.

    Single-mindedness on projects is commendable. But you have to remember he doesn't work for you. He works for Twitter. And if Twitter had any problem with this, it wouldn't be happening.

    I see nothing about this but unneeded criticism. If you see the API go completely to hell, then raise the issue. But don't complain because he has an opportunity to do something he'll obviously enjoy.

    Like

  22. With all due respect, this is a matter for Twitter, the book's publisher, and Alex himself. Nobody works 24/7 on any job (this coming from a startup-employed guy leaving a blog comment at 2:30 AM), and if he wants to take the time he's not working on Twitter to give a book to the emerging Scala community, I don't see where the gripe is. You said he's a hard worker who answers your emails quickly no matter what time. Sounds like a guy who has no problems working hard. Everybody wants Twitter to be the best it can possibly be, but what Alex does in his non-Twitter time is really none of your business or mine.

    Like

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