Twitter is Finally Doing the Right Thing

Developers are up in arms over new changes to Twitter’s policies. Today Ryan Sarver, Twitter’s Director of Platform, stated in an email to developers that “developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.” I applaud the effort however, as Twitter is a) becoming more open and honest about their policies, and b) I’ve been recommending this move since 2009.

In June of 2009 (and in many Tweets the years before), I suggested that “Twitter has never had control over how Tweets get to users.” I suggested that by owning the client they own advertising, and that was the best way they could monetize. By making this move today they’re putting their stake in the sand (albeit without buying Tweetdeck, but buying Tweetie instead), and taking control of some really great ways to monetize Twitter.

Twitter should now take this as an opportunity to build a platform out of the client. Now, with their new user interface on Twitter.com, and control of the mobile experience, they should be building ways for developers to tie into the user experience and enhance what users are getting out of Twitter. Seesmic Desktop is taking this approach right now, allowing developers to integrate into their client experience, creating many very interesting tie ins to the Seesmic platform. While this move is probably bad for Seesmic (unless Twitter buys Seesmic), it is the direction Twitter should go.

If you remember, Facebook did this early on – when they launched their platform they built ways for developers to, rather than need to build clients to enhance the experience. Facebook allows “Canvas Pages” for developers to build on top of Facebook.com, and “integration points” for developers to build access to every part of the Facebook experience. (I cover these in my new book)

Owning the client opens up a whole wealth of opportunities for Twitter – I just wish they had done it sooner. Let’s hope they continue being honest about their roadmap and developers aren’t strung along in the future like they have the last several years. I met with Ryan Sarver yesterday – I admit I had a new respect for Twitter after talking to him. Twitter is in a good stance now for the future, and I look forward to seeing where they go with this.

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12 thoughts on “Twitter is Finally Doing the Right Thing

  1. Disagreement. This is a power play because Twitter is struggling. The addition of the forced advertising QuickBar into their app (with no way to disable or remove this highly annoying “feature”) along with this makes me think that Twitter is starting to really hurt financially.

    So yep, I'm calling it: this is the beginning of the end of Twitter.

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  2. beginning of the end of Twitter??

    What do you use Twitter for anyways? I think Twitter will be around longer than FB. FB continues to saturate themselves with services, just like Myspace did. Twitter does one thing and one thing well, namely 140 character status updates. Having developers quit making “client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience” isn't going to constrict Twitter's growth.

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  3. I agree with Otto. Twitter's site has never been the best way to use the service, and with the “new Twitter”, it is even less usable. If their client apps are similar to their site, the experience will tank. (Close to half the page in their “new” site is wasted space, filled with non-features like trends. And with the hashbang URL scheme, it is very slow loading, too.)

    For people who use WebOS or other platforms that Twitter doesn't care about, there may never be an official client.

    Look, I get it: Twitter will need advertising at some point in order to pay for itself. But it isn't so difficult to require 3rd party developers to display Twitter's ads (possibly in return for a slice of revenue) as a condition of accessing the API.

    But the reason clients are so important is because they enable developers to figure out better ways to display the content to site users, where better = better in the eyes of said developer and the people who use his/her client application.

    Twitter didn't invent “hashtags”, for instance. Users did, and clients began supporting it long before Twitter itself did. Twitter didn't invent “lists”, either. Clients started that. Shutting down the client ecosystem will very likely mean Friendster-style stagnation, followed by a long, slow decline.

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  4. Sorry. I do not know which company you are taking about. I am confused by the big blue t logo.

    Please get in line and follow the official style guidelines and use the correct livery and branding.

    /sarcasm

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  5. I agree with your blog. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for Twitter to manage the ecosystem the way Apple manages their AppStore. Twitter has let this run away.. causing tremendous problems.
    The micro-broadcating system can be very valuable if the apps are controlled. But Twitter needs to do it fast and be consistent in their policies.

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  6. Without at least some semblance of critic-addressing, this post is insulting to the intelligence of the audience. Your points are valid, but could you at least try to address the fact that Twitter's rise in large part hinged on the crop of third-party tools that made the service more usable? Could you at least try to address the disappointment this could bring to users who have grown to love particular third-party services? Could you at least give a hint to the ill will this move has created among the influential devs and geeks who helped push Twitter to the mainstream in its early days?

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  7. Yes, Twitter should make ways for developers to plug in to the client. But that isn't new, we've been asking for that for years, we still don't have it, and there's not any indication that we will. Until something like that happens, Twitter as a platform, isn't exciting and it hasn't been for a while now.

    And I agree with Stephen. There were multiple times reading this post where it was laughable that you conveniently ignore the bigger issue.

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  8. What I blame is the approach. The opened the API to everybody saying “do whatever you want”. Now they are progressively closing the gate. The exact opposite would have been much better.

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  9. The problem is that it didn't happen early enough, as you say. People have grown used to the Tweetdeck experience, or that of any other client they habitually use. And developers have built business, with investor money, on Twitter. So an announcement like this should have been part of a path Twitter was on with their dev community, not a bolt out of the blue during SXSW

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  10. Except I think that's what Twitter did. They didn't just say “you can't
    create clients any more from this day forward.” They said, “if you're going
    to create a Twitter client, just know you're going to be competing with us
    and it's going to be a difficult process moving forward.” I think they gave
    warning – they didn't turn it off though.

    Like

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