Why Twitter needs to learn a lesson from Apple. And FAST.

Yesterday Twitter announced that it will be making some dramatic changes to how it allows developers to use its “fire hose” of tweets in their Third Party applications.  There seems to be vast implications for everybody building — and using — content aggregating and social media services, including Klout, Storify and many other popular services.

An excellent summary from eConsultancy called “The Twitter API as we Know it is Dead,” reports that one of the biggest pieces of bad news is that Twitter is changing the rule on how applications showing tweets should display them.  If you want to use the Twitter API to display tweets, you will, for instance, always have to display the author’s avatar and the text of the tweet below the author’s name and @username.

Building an awesome mashup that displays tweets alongside content from other services? As ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell observes, one of the new requirements is that “Tweets that are grouped together in a timeline should not be rendered with non-Twitter content. e.g. comments, updates from other networks.”

Nearly every aggregating service, including the new Klout “Moments” feature displays feeds from multiple sources.  According to Twitter, “If your application displays Tweets to users, and it doesn’t adhere to our Display Requirements, we reserve the right to revoke your application key.” In other words, developers will have far less ability to create unique experiences around content pulled from Twitter.

This represents a dramatic land-grab by Twitter, who wants to control the market for consumer-oriented Twitter clients and syndication. Twitter wants to own the Twitter stream — wherever it is.

At a minimum, these new guidelines are going to throw the Twitterverse into turmoil and it may cripple what used to be a thriving developer ecosystem.

I am not somebody who is walking the halls of Twitter, and I don’t know the inside view of Twitter’s long-term monetization schemes, but it seems that Twitter might learn a lesson from Apple. Apple’s dominance is not just because they make great products. They also have an enormous application eco-system that was developed not by Apple, but by thousands of innovators everywhere. This open market approach drove breath-taking and rapid innovation and Apple figured out a way to take their cut, too.

It appears that with this move Twitter is saying that THEY want to control the app development.  This seems like a short-sighted and risky move. Yes, they control the mother lode of information but I would suggest that anything that destroys the vibrant innovation around your product is probably a bad thing.

I love you Twitter, but isn’t there another way to monetize other than killing a thousand small companies after they have been working with you for years?

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  • I agree with you on this one Mark. I think many app will get punished in the future. But there is a green light in this as well. If the application is making API calls on behave of users handel name the new limitation will not effect the application.

  • It all started with buying Tweetdeck, which I considered the Cadillac of Twitter tools (at least at the consumer and beginning professional level) and turning it into a Yugo. I get that they can’t make money if no one sees their ads and promoted tweets, but this is ridiculous

  • People forget how close Apple came to becoming a footnote in history. They were almost another Betamax and it happened in large part because they circled the wagons.

    I really wonder where Twitter is going with this.

  • louhoffman

    I don’t know.

    Apple’s history with its developer community through the years has been choppy with the periodic acrimonious moment.

    I also think it’s still early days for Twitter as it tries to figure out
    the balance between control (that leads to monetization) and
    cultivating an ecosystem that expands use.

    If the Twitter developer community pushes back hard enough, It’s possible we’ll see concessions.

    Anyway, will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  • Interesting. We’ll have to see the fall-out! Thanks Jure!

  • I agree but I thought they could integrate Tweetdeck somehow and monetize without doing this. The Tweedeck strategy isn’t clear either in all of this. The Twitter folks are smart but the pieces are not fitting together here. Thanks Brad!

  • Great analogy Jack. Thanks!

  • This has been an interesting dynamic. Twitter actually signaled this move 18 months ago, I guess to give people time to get out of the business or something but I didn’t see much acrimony about it. Maybe nobody really understood or believed it. Thanks for the comment Lou.

  • Aren’t we seeing a very good reason here to pull the conversation onto our own sites as early in the cycle as possible? The cynic in me has an innate distrust of all third-party platforms. It looks like changing the rules in the middle of the game is the craze everywhere.

  • Mark, I’ve been wondering about the private conversations, the hidden dynamics that are taking place within Twitter (and really any other companies that rely on third-party developers to accentuate their business). I imagine that these changes are fueled by funders who are tiring of not seeing a full return on investment.

    But in the balance is the culture of outside developers who have made Twitter every bit of the success it might be today. A culture is a fragile thing and I wonder if the braintrust at Twitter fully grasps this reality. Maybe they do and choose to take the risk. They’ve backed themselves into a pretty tight corner. Only time will tell if Twitter thrives or wanders into obsolescence within the next few years.

  • I’m not in agreement with Twitter either but…

    As someone who likes to explore the “contrarian” view… maybe Twitter is selecting a new market of businesses that use it’s platform the way they want it used?

    Anybody who builds their business (or part of it) on the back of another free platform such as Twitter takes the risk that platform might decide to go in a different direction.

    Is this the right decision for Twitter? They think so… and really, that’s all that matters in the end, after all, it is free. Will it kill or damage Twitter’s reputation? Probably not as much as we would like to think, but if it does… then there are only a few people to blame… the people who made this decision in the first place.

  • Amen Kimmo… to all points.

  • Your right about the purpose: it is the business model that’s driving this. Right now there are two primary ways I know of that they make money 1) the firehose for social motioning and 2) promoted Tweets. The market for the former isn’t large given how cost prohibitive it is; the latter is larger, but Twitter clients are a complication.

    As the @TheJackB:disqus said earlier, it did start with Tweetdeck, which they have essentially killed. A few years ago there were stats floating around that upwards of 70% of users accessed Twitter content though clients — which don’t display promoted Tweets — at least not yet. Hard to make money that way, especially as the world goes increasingly mobile, and developers make sexier apps for engaging Twitter on the go, this will problem will compound.

    I wonder if the next move is to force APIs to include promoted Tweets too. Or if they charge for API access, which of course would fly in the face of the intent for the API in the first place. Absent that, they’ve got to find another way to make money — and that would be back to square one.

  • I just went and watched the vimeo video about App.Net. Most interesting thing I’ve heard for a while.

    . Seems to me that a change is coming. Free twitter and you are the product. Paid competitor like twitter and the product is the service you buy.
    Facebook, Twitter and other Freemium user milking farms are going to have serve the money they used to grow, eventually. Answering to the investor and the capitalists means controlling the service.
    But… this App.Net offers a choice, Pay for more! The service is the product not us!!
    Is this a change maker? While I like twitter. I like this idea and it’s potential even more.
    What is your take on this appearing as a service to compete for 3rd party app makers, as twitter tells the same people, we are going to control this and you more….

  • I’m inclined to agree – is this a struggle between letting product rules overcome platform thinking?

    I read an interesting Sloan Management Review article which basically
    outlines 2 conditions for platforms to thrive: (1)
    indispensable/essential use that solves a problem (2) easy to connect
    and build upon, to expand the system of use and potentially create unintentional
    end use.

    Essentially this seems like an increase in the cost of the participating in the ecosystem (costs to comply with rules, uncertainty about future rules). I don’t see how the API became more valuable, unless the context is so much richer that it drives end-user engagement.

  • Welcome back to {grow} my dear friend. The are absolutely changing the game in the middle. Not good.

  • First may I say how great it is to see you here again Chris. It;s been too long and we need to catch up. I agree with you. My hunch is that the financial people are turning the screws. We may see some new business models emerge with this pressure. It is going to hit Facebook too.

  • I’m so glad you contributed this counter-point Joseph and you very well may be right. We don;t really know the whole story and from my perspective it may seem short-sighted but in the end it might be a genius kind of move. Interesting times ahead. Many thanks for this superb comment!

  • Really great thinking here Frank. Extremely thought-provoking. As some others have said, the financiers turning the screws is probably going to drive some new business models.

  • Seems like they are wanting to pull a Microsoft instead of an Apple by dominating apps (if there is any left) with a consistent experience. Perhaps they thought the freedom in the past led them a little too far from where they wanted to be so they are just pulling back to see what great apps can come out of this. I sure hope Twitter has a plan for doing this else it may just work out for the worst.

  • Thank you, Mark. I read your kind thoughts last night and they made me smile. I needed to read them after a tough week. I promise to not be such a stranger and hopefully we will get that chance to catch up very, very soon.

    I can sometimes err toward the side of criticizing Twitter execs for their actions but I can also appreciate their dilemma. It’s hard to chart a different course, get everyone on board to make the shift, and then execute the change. Old businesses and relationships may need to get tossed. The question is will it enhance Twitter’s business over the long haul or curse it to the fate of something like AOL which lost its way?

  • b2bspecialist

    I’ve not read all the comments but I would like to see some iOS developers weigh in on how “open” Apple is from a UX and development specs perspective. Are we comparing “Apples to Apples”?

  • Actually, this approach is fairly common. He refers to Kickstarter in the video. Will be interesting to see if they make their goal!

  • That is a very interesting and straight-forward model. Sure makes sense to me. Thanks for adding this insight Bill.

  • Very interesting angle Jan. I wish I was a part of the discussion at Twitter. Would be a fascinating experience.

  • Yes, would love to see that too!

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  • b2bspecialist

    I had a developer provide his thoughts:

    –begin quote—
    “Twitter has a monetization challenge that Apple doesn’t. Even if Apple didn’t profit from 3rd party development they would be fine, but 3rd party clients complicate Twitter’s monetization strategy.

    That said, I think Twitter is doing it wrong. They should offer an ad-free paid tier with API access and an ad-supported free tier without API access.”
    –end quote–

    Ironically, my conversation took place with him not on Twitter but on App.Net.

  • b2bspecialist

    They made their goal. Raised over $500,000 in pre-release revenue. I think they did it in under 30 days.

  • Basically what I thought they would say. Thanks so much for going to this effort!! Owe you one!

  • Awesome!

  • One word. Greed. They can’t force their ads through 3rd party apps as easily. Thing is they were made through the 3rd party apps as their own tend to be sub par. (tweet deck may be an exception). Tweetbot, hootsuite, Kred, klout etc all revolve around the openness twitter had and are what make twitter so good

  • Dave

    Wow, thanks for this, Mark. All the stuff I read made it sound more benign, like having a cap of number of users at once. This is a lot worse.

    Next step: CSS regulations for all sites displaying Twitter stuff!

  • Well, we all need to make money but I’m certainly concerned about the long-term impact versus the sort-term results. Thanks so much Andrzej! I really appreciate your participation in the blog community.

  • Hard to say … let’s see how it plays out! Thanks Dave.

  • quick tweet with Kred and they seem unworried as they fall into the crm / analytic quadrant. But as you say, long term this may not be the best plan ever. Looks like they may be trying to match the facebook model, where usage tends to revolve around the official site and apps. We shall see 🙂 and thanks for the welcome @businessesgrow:disqus

  • thanks for commenting Mark. I’m really interested in if this will become a competitor for Twitter, and will Twitter seek to become a business site more than anything else?

  • The irony is that integrating Tweets into other apps adds value to Twitter and to their users, and in most cases, it channels traffic back to Twitter and increases engagement. They did paint with a very broad brush with these latest updates.

    A better tact would have been to take a Developers Relations approach and have them talk to the developers that innovating around their API.

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  • Interesting perspective, Mark. I agree that Twitter could stand to benefit from observing how Apple interacts and supports its ecosystem. However, how does Twitter then effectively monetize their platform? If folks are using 3rd party tools, they are not seeing those Promoted Tweets. Do they simply price the service to the firehose accordingly…and downstream 3rd parties pass along those costs? We do include the avatar and ID with the tweets we display in Pulse…with links back to the original content because we know people like to be engaged “where they are at”

  • Most apps don’t need access to the firehose. The Twitter ecosystem as a whole has value and people are willing to pay for access to it. For example, if I build a service that charges $X per user would I not be willing to pay a nominal fee to provide that user the experience they are paying for? This something I blogged about a few days ago (
    http://www.eschrade.com/page/dear-twitter-charge-us-dont-limit-us/ ). What it comes down to is that the social media platforms are inexplicably tying themselves to advertising, which is one of the more volatile revenue streams to tie yourself to.

  • I liked your point in the blog: Don’t Limit Us, Unleash Us. And I agree on the volatile revenue stream that is advertising. Of course, I am someone who is likely to pay for some of these services if it means a higher level of service and no interruptive ads (I pay for Pandora and SiriusXM to avoid ads). Meanwhile, I just ignore the ads and Promoted Tweets.

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