I Should Have Heeded My Own Advice About Twitter

whale.pngAbout a full year ago, I wrote of developers leaving the Twitter development platform due to Twitter consistently removing features, making changes without warning developers, and effectively putting developers out of business with just a single change of policy.  I advised other developers to be careful building a business model around Twitter, adding that it was a risky move, much more risky than many of the other platforms out there.  It would seem I should have taken my own advice.

It was this time I started SocialToo, a service that originally we built around the auto-follow concept. I named it such because I did not want it to work solely on the Twitter platform.  It was clear Twitter was on an unstable architecture, and their relationship with developers was also quite shaky.  For this reason, I added in features like Facebook profile redirects at the time (a simple “yourusername.socialtoo.com” which redirects to your Facebook profile).  But Twitter, at the time, was the easiest solution to build around, and made the most sense for where we had started so I figured we had to make what we did with it perfect.  Here we are, one year later, and I’m still trying to make it work perfect, but not because our code sucks – it’s because Twitter keeps changing their system, and the rules that go with it!

Today Twitter pulled the rug out from under its developers once more by, with absolutely no notice, announcing that (paraphrased, in my words) since their way was the right way, they were discouraging auto-following, and would only allow a user to follow 1,000 people per day.  What Twitter neglected was that, while not many, myself and others were building business plans around the users that would need this.  A little notice would have been helpful, but is very consistent with the way developers have been treated over the past year or more by Twitter.  Yes, I’m a big boy and we’ll survive, but that’s besides the point.  You can read more about what developers are experiencing over on LouisGray.  Put lightly, I’m not happy.

Twitter Needs a Firm Terms of Service

I know I’m not only one to say this when I say that I don’t have a clue what to expect from Twitter any more.  Any developer out there is prone to this type of treatment, and I can pretty much guarantee it will affect every Twitter developer out there at some point until something is done about it.  The reason for this is that Twitter really has no firm Terms of Service around its platform.  I am not required to agree to any way of using their platform when I write software for them.

Some might see this as a good thing, but what they are neglecting to see is that a Terms of Service gives developers a vision of what to expect, something we don’t have now.  This needs to change, and soon – we as developers need to know what we can and can’t do on the platform.  Can we write apps that auto-follow?  Can we write apps that auto-DM?  What about mass-DM?  Can I store data and what data can I store on my servers and for how long?  What is the definition of spam? There are lots of rules for Twitter users that we agree to, but nothing a developer must agree to when writing apps.  This is why you’re seeing so many apps out there gaming the system, causing these ridiculous rules to have to be made, when it can realistically all be settled before-hand with a simple agreement all developers must agree to before developing apps for Twitter.

If I knew what I could or couldn’t do on Twitter I could avoid it in the first place.  Unfortunately Twitter hasn’t defined that and it’s pretty darn confusing, not to mention extremely risky, to write apps for the Twitter platform right now.  With Facebook, on the other hand, I’m required to agree to a very specific agreement, and they’re very clear when they’re going to change any of the terms, giving developers plenty of warning.  It’s well written out and well defined. It’s a platform with little risk and high reward for businesses because they give developers time to work with any changes they make to it.

We need notice, Twitter!

These “day of” announcements are very immature and something a 15 million user company with millions to billions in the bank shouldn’t be doing.  They were doing this type of stuff a full year ago, and even today they haven’t changed their ways, even though they said they would.  Twitter needs to start notifying developers of these changes or a lot more are going to be put out of business at the drop of a hat.

Every day on the developers mailing list I’m seeing other things like this happening – OAuth technology being removed without notice (I recognize it’s beta, but we still need to know!), no notice to developers on what’s happening when site slowness happens, when things are fixed on the platform, and when they’re broken, and more.  As a developer with 12-15 years of experience in these things, the entire Twitter platform is a joke!  You just don’t do these types of things in the real world of software development!  I worked at places I would have gotten fired for this type of activity!

Developers will continue to leave if this doesn’t change

I have to admit, I’m re-evaluating my strategy to stop working on what I was doing in the Twitter environment, and move more to other platforms at the moment.  When I do that, no, I won’t remove the existing Twitter technology, but I will admit it will be very easy for the users on my service to get the same value they’re currently getting on Twitter on other services, and as they experience similar treatment by Twitter they’ll be leaving as well (as I’m already seeing).  I know I’m not the only developer in this boat right now – there are a lot of frustrated developers out there with almost no signs of change from Twitter.  I know developers that now refuse to develop on the Twitter platform because of the way they were treated, and that will continue to happen.

I have to admit I had to send out e-mails to 20 or 50 or so of Twitter’s very top users today telling them that Twitter wasn’t allowing them to auto-follow.  Those are tough e-mails to write, especially considering the influence Twitter has allowed these individuals to have and the audiences these people are capable of engaging.  I’d like to make Twitter look good for these people, but Twitter isn’t making it very easy.

Twitter, it’s time to get your act together.  Hire some more smart people, get people in management that know how to make these decisions right, and make us believe, not by words alone, but by actual actions, that you’re going to do something about it.  If you don’t, as I’ve said before, when the developers leave, so will your users.

Come follow me over on FriendFeed over at http://beta.friendfeed.com/jessestay or over on Facebook at http://jessestay.socialtoo.com.

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63 thoughts on “I Should Have Heeded My Own Advice About Twitter

  1. Thanks Greg – I just wrote about this. I thought about this earlier, but it
    didn't register to me how many people this was affecting. I also just
    noticed the discussion going on in the Dev List. Now I've got to go check
    out SocialToo's e-mail forwards. I don't think many people are using them,
    but they would have definitely been affected.

    Like

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