With Twitter’s recent announcement that they don’t want you building new 3rd party Twitter clients nerds everywhere are calling foul. This drastic departure from their previously open stance has caught a few off guard while others think it was an inevitable step in the evolution of Twitter in to a profitable company.
While I’m not in anyway opposed to having developers and content creators make money, I believe that Twitter is biting the hand that fed it. It’s undoubtedly true that a large portion of the success of Twitter is due to 3rd party developers taking advantage of the open public API provided by Twitter. Use of this by 3rd party developers made Twitter easy to use for you and me from which ever device or computer we happened to be at.
I’ve rarely used Twitter’s website (because it’s been terrible till recently and is now only tolerable) and while I have used their iPhone and Mac clients they’ve never been my favourite ways to access the service. Other applications have had better features, nicer designs and cleaner UI. With this recent announcement I’ve just removed the applications from my iPhones and Mac. While this is admittedly an entirely political statement it’s one way to show Twitter we’re not happy with it’s current stance.
With that said lets take a look at what Twitter states are the reasons for this change in policy.
Consistent User Experience
Twitter cites the lack of consistent user experience as one reason that 3rd party developers should not be making any new Twitter clients. Sure if you tweet from any client or the Twitter website it should do the same thing. A retweet should be a retweet. But how come Twitter’s own native OS X client doesn’t provide a constant experience? Oh sure it is consistent for Twitter but it’s broken in OS X.
The OS X client doesn’t respect spaces. It broke in the second update and while they’ve found plenty of time to update the icon (3 times) they haven’t found time to fix a known bug in the software. So while they can get a holier than thou attitude about user experience they obviously feel free to totally discard their own failures with user experience. Maybe Apple should remove their application from the store because it doesn’t provide a consistent user experience.
How about the user experience of Twitter’s iPhone client? Recently they introduced a feature to expose trending tweets which became affectionately known as the #dickbar. While the most recent update makes it tolerable it’s still something that most users hate and want off their screen. Most of the reviews for the more tolerable version still lament the terrible feature. I suppose a great fix for putting out crappy features that users hate is to just eliminate the competition, then we’re stuck with your crappy features.
Now let’s look at the Windows client, wait they don’t have one. Just like they didn’t have a Mac or iPhone client till recently. Also remember that those applications came through the purchase of a 3rd party developer not through Twitter’s own efforts. So what Windows users are supposed to, be limited to the crappy website?
So what about privacy? Twitter indicates that they will now be holding developers to a high standard when it comes to user privacy. Seems to me that Twitter had a massive security break because of bad password policy. Twitter is the one that just got slapped with a huge fine for that security lapse, not any of the 3rd party developers. They’ve had the biggest breach to user privacy. Maybe the third party developers should be in charge of security not Twitter themselves.
It’s also always going to be a problem. If they keep a public API they’ll always have to police it and shut off some for abuse. Any time you get a large crowd together there will be people with nefarious motives in the mix. To me this argument just rings a bit hollow in the face of the evidence. Sure it sounds all nice and pretty to want people to be careful with user privacy but it also begs the question, did they not care before? Why were the privacy standards lower before?
I believe that this all comes down to Twitter making money. Sure they’ve been given lots of money be investors but they’re not profitable. While looking at the issues with the Twitter applications we’ve already seen a few spots Twitter could make some money with their native applications. Take the #dickbar as an example. I’d gladly pay $4.99 to have it removed (or get the option to remove it). Many Twitter clients have a paid and ad supported version, this would just be Twitter’s version of that. Why not extend it to the OS X application too? Include the #dickbar (ad supported) for non-paying people and allow people that purchase the app to turn it off. Again I wouldn’t even think about spending $4.99 on the app, I’d just do click purchase.
Outside of the items I’ve mentioned others have come up with ways Twitter could make some money.
3rd Party Developers
So what about the developers? I’ve got to admit that basing a business model on a service like Twitter (as your only source of revenue) was probably not the best option. There has always been the danger that they would change something and you’d be screwed. In many ways it was a risk you took when you built the software. I looked a few times at filling a whole I saw in the application landscape but every time I got to the part where I questioned my idea against what Twitter might change and I decided it was too risky.
At the end of the day Twitter was built with the 3rd party developers. It wouldn’t have had the success it does (as admitted by Twitter in the announcement of the change) without the application ecosystem that has allowed you to access the service anywhere. A service that they were happy to take advantage of and now want to screw.