Dear Twitter,

I never wrote any Twitter clients, but I’ve been around since the very beginning. So yesterday when I read the news about your new developer roadmap – which boils down to “no new clients, thanks” – I was confused. I was confused because I remember the early days when there was no such thing as an official client and the web page was pretty bland (or just plain bad).

In those days, people stuck around because there were third party clients that allowed them to use twitter without refreshing a page all the time (you still need to actually click a link today, but you’ve certainly come a long way), or without even using a browser. Those clients let people use your service without disturbing their workflow (well, to an extent anyway). In those days, and I hope my memory isn’t failing me, the number of tweets from third party clients was dramatically higher than those “from the web”.

And so knowing a bit of your history, I find myself in the odd position of both loving your service and your people, and feeling like you are betraying what got you where you are today. How many users did you get out of 3rd parties? How many new features did you integrate upstream that were born in 3rd party clients? You are basically biting the hand that fed you for a very long time.

Enters: the devil’s advocate

54921 birdcage lg Now look, I can see your side of the coin too. You want people to have a consistent experience accessing your service. I certainly applaud that. But you can certainly guarantee a great experience by guiding developers instead of cutting their cord (see Apple’s UI Guidelines – they don’t stop you from creating a bad experience, but they guide you through building a great one).

But lets get it out there: this isn’t just about the user experience. This is also about molding your ecosystem into something where you can control where the money goes. Which makes sense: Twitter needs to generate cash. But again, you can have rules that get you where you want/need to go without destroying the trust of 3rd parties.

This is a snowball effect, you see. If 3rd parties start telling their users that they can’t serve them because you won’t let them, it’s certainly not them who are going to disappoint users – it’s you. And i don’t think you want to disappoint users in a world of Facebook.

Here’s what I would do

If you want to keep control over the user experience and monetization, you can certainly ask developers to do things the way you want. You could have specific rules that developers would have to follow in order to keep using your API to build clients. Some of these might be:

  • No changes to tweets – content of tweets should never be modified in any way (no short link changing, no affiliate link adding, certainly no automated keyword linking to ads and pages).
  • No changes to the terms used by Twitter. A tweet is a tweet, a retweet is a retweet and a favorite is a favorite. No exceptions.
  • No ads on the timeline that aren’t generated and controlled by Twitter. Clients should/could find other ways to monetize if you really need to enforce that.

While these rules are somewhat restrictive (particularly the second and third), they don’t feel to me like betrayal. They feel like you want people to know they’re using Twitter, and that you’re sticking to a specific language, consistent throughout the ecosystem – there would be nothing wrong with that.

Regarding monetization, you could go into a revenue share deal with third-parties. They have people using their software, they make a cut out of the ads you show in the stream. You would make money, and so would developers. This would be a win/win situation – a great ecosystem of companies making money.

The bottom line

Lack of trust (like what developers are feeling right now) trickles down through the ecosystem and to the users’ ears. As I said above, you don’t want users to be disappointed in a time when moving over to Facebook would be so easy. Sure, Facebook still doesn’t make it as easy as you guys to follow certain people, but you do know they can move in that direction. You are already constrained by the limitation that made you interesting (140 characters) – don’t give people another excuse to move.

I just don’t see this as a time when you can just tell developers you don’t need their clients anymore. Find ways to monetize your service by putting up sensible rules and guidelines, not walls.

PS: for a company that cares about user experience as your roadmap email mentioned, you have certainly weirded a few people out (me included) with #Dickbar. Have you lost touch with what people really want?

32 thoughts on “Dear Twitter,

  1. Dear Twitter, It’s all good. Carry on. You’re a company that needs to make money and we like your free service. Thank you.

  2. Dont believe for a second that this is about the user experience. That would automatically be controlled by the market; noone is going to use a badly designed app if there are better (and free) alternatives. This is exclusively about monetization: Twitter intends to spam users with ads, and this is only going to work if they control the clients.

    And no, it is not ok to mix ads in my stream.

  3. Dear Twitter, we look forward to moving on to the Next Big Thing as your service becomes co-opted by advertising and rigor mortis sets in. Craiglist will still be around when your presence will be a footnote in network history, like Napster.

  4. Twitter has raised $360,000,000 in funding, some of it from four years ago. Big money demands a big exit. A big exit demands big revenue growth.

    They need a business model, and licensing the firehose isn’t adequate.

    What choice do they have but to find ways to get more display advertising to the users?

  5. While this plan looks fantastic in comparison to what Twitter is currently doing, imagine if this had been their initial announcement. There still would’ve been a public outrage.

  6. @Plinz: There are already ads in your stream, just not ones that are paid for through Twitter.

  7. Why do you applaud the value of wanting people to have a consistent experience? Why is that important? I am monitoring this conversation utilizing *old Twitter* Why? Because I don’t want all of the AJAX “helpers” and Monitizing Ad apps. I only want a robust method of simply following the tweets that I choose. I don’t want “help” with suggestions of who to follow. I don’t want the website programing to “anticipate” my intention and “prompt” me.

    The #UX design that I admire is that of Craigslist. Be more like that. Robust. Simple. HTML only. My first rule of Social Media is that *people cheat*. That includes both people who try to game the system, and the “owners ‘of the social community who destroy what they have created by attempting to monetize it.

    We’ve seen the arch of this story before – #LinkedIn, #AOL, #FB – #SM Community starts, is great, is gamed, monetized and trashed.

    Resist the human condition.

  8. I agree. Good post!

    This is not about consistent user experience. (They even stated that they have over 90% of the tweets being posted on official apps)

    This is about MONEY. ADS. The #dickbar.

    They could simply drop the odd ad ‘tweet’ in the timeline data which we developers use to build out apps, and then make sure we’re displaying them. Sure, we’ll hate them, but it will also be a win/win. We’d be able to build and sell our clients. (I’m very close to finished one, which has many other extra features which add to the experience, rather than confuse it – photo, video, audio uploading etc. Media pulled in to the tweet view from various sources based on a url in a tweet, etc, etc.)

    I remember last year when @al3x tweeted something about exciting new things to come for the website which caused a great kerfuffle around the dev community (for we are indeed a community) and then Twitter came out and said they we’re going to to a site redesign (here’s the video http://vimeo.com/9868163 ) .. then what happened? #newtwitter.

    They’re acting more and more like Apple everyday (disclaimer: I like Apple products. I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro) , you’d think they were gearing up to be acquired by them.

  9. Dear Twitter:
    What is your most visionary end goal? As far out as you can push it, what do you want Twitter to accomplish for the user, for yourselves, for your advertisers? Not asking this to be flip – asking because if the folks at Twitter take long, slow time to answer these questions, that is just step one.

    Step 2: What conditions need to be in place for you to accomplish those goals? What conditions need to be in place for the user? For the advertisers? For you?

    Step 3: Create rules and structures that will ensure those conditions are in place.

    That is the only way we can create the future, rather than reacting to it, which rarely ends well, and then only by chance.

  10. Users tolerance of third party spam will be limited to their use of twitter. I have zero tolerance for third party spam and I’m sure many users agree. Be careful twitter but continue to be creative too.

  11. Thanks for this post and excellent points. Twitter should rethink their decision!

    One further point: when a client is unattractive, confusing or includes spam etc

    wouldn’t the user decide to use another client??

  12. Inevitable… :(

    I don’t earn money from my twitter stream and can easily say that most of my friends don’t even use it. So you ruin my experience then I will just stop using twitter… it’s not as if my life will end.

    Silly question. Any mention of old third party clients being cut off?

  13. I like your list of proposed guidelines. Have you thought about what guidelines (if any) should be enforced for contextual actions? At one level it makes to keep a consistant set of actions, but part of the promise of 3rd party clients is new isights and actions.
    Two rows of actions per tweet seems a bit much.

    What are your thoughts on how to balance consistant ux and innovation in per tweet actions.

  14. Micah: Good question with a non-trivial answer. I think Twitter should allow any action as long as it didn’t mean the conversation would have to move elsewhere (as is the case with deck.ly – I have no clue about how they allowed that to happen). However, in terms of things you can do with a tweet, I don’t think there’s a lot of room for innovation (mostly due to the very limited nature of a tweet: 140characters of text, everything else is extracted from that text) – you can share tweets, “remix” (retweet, quote, re-appropriate, etc) and reply to tweets. Not a lot more.

  15. The article is great! Hmm…I’ve been using twitter for only the last 4 or 5 months. If Twitter is headed in the direction of monopolizing ‘twitter’ I can see it as incubator of new ideas, etc but I somehow see an eventual move to re-support the 3rd party developer.

  16. isn’t that exactly what they are doing? they didn’t say no more clients, they said that they would hold pure twitter clients ‘to a high standard’. they actually gave a dozen or more examples of ‘good clients’

  17. I’m gone if I have to see advertisements. I love these guys who start out all idealistic and create these great apps and then cave to the almighty dollar. Gotta raise money? I’d subscribe but I won’t stay if I see one advertisement come my way. I get bombarded all day long from corporate America and the web is the one place that I can control my viewing content.

  18. What language in the new ToS (which is the governing document, not this Twitter employee’s blog) states that new clients are impermissible?

  19. I honestly don’t think you quite understand what it takes to moderate third party clients at their scale. You can guide developers all you want, but you have to actively watch and manage every single application that uses the API to make sure they’re not doing something wrong. That’s what they’re doing right now and, like they’d mentioned, they have to ban hundreds of keys a week for bad devs. It’s just not sustainable at all as the ecosystem continues to grow further and further.

    Ultimately, yes, this is about money. But it’s not necessarily just being able to inject ads. It’s also saving money and time and manpower on the support side of things. It’s possible they could change to more of an Apple-esque approval and moderation system before apps can be made public, but even then, you’re still wasting time and manpower and you end up slowing down the app creation and update process.

  20. This is the stage – where twitter should increase the scope for developers, but they are restricting. They can’t win fb battle until they have strong developer community support.

  21. Well said sir.

    I’d like to point out something I find a bit interesting regarding this bullet from your post: No changes to tweets – content of tweets should never be modified in any way (no short link changing, no affiliate link adding, certainly no automated keyword linking to ads and pages).

    I love this idea and I agree whole-heartedly with your point. Which is why I find it aggravating that Twitter themselves is already breaking this “rule” right now. In the iPhone & Mac Official Twitter clients any link you send out is automatically shortened to a “t.co” short URL. When I post a real URL I’m doing so because I WANT followers to see the name of the site I’m linking to. Maybe because I want to promote that website, or I want people to know what site they’re going to be directed to. Either way; I didn’t ask for the URL to be changed.

    I’m all for Twitter controlling their network/ecosystem better and finding a way to monetize but as you said – “Have you lost touch with what people really want?”

  22. I must agree. I am kind of disappointed with recent changes and statements on twitter – both as a user and as a devloper. (Am I the only one missing the datetime info in tweets or what? I can’t google anything about it)

  23. Well said! Couldn’t have said it better.
    And they still can’t make an official app for Nokia so we’ re still relying on third party apps for that.

  24. Ian: learn your latin. PS means Postscript from the latin Post Scriptum, which means “after the main script”, and not post-signature as you seem to be implying. Trolls sucking at trolling is just weird.

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