Twitter Betrays App Developers

It's not a surprise, but it still came as a shock.

Yesterday Twitter told third-party developers not to compete against official client apps. No new "Twitter clients" will be permitted, and old ones are now on very thin ice.1 The only permissible reason to develop for the Twitter ecosystem now is to fill holes and needs Twitter hasn't -- yet.

The pathetic rationalization given was that this is to ensure a more consistent user experience. I'm all for great UX, but I doubt it’s actually a primary concern here:

  1. Using a third-party Twitter client is optional and not a very popular choice anymore. Twitter should focus on the UX they can control, suggest UX guidelines for others, and only intervene when users are actively defrauded or abused (e.g. services posting to your account without your explicit permission).

  2. It's really about ads. This announcement comes only a week after the launch of the so-called #dickbar, an obnoxious visual intrusion added to Twitter's official iPhone app, which shows banal "trends" and "sponsored trends" (yup, ads). If they want to show ads, okay. But then don't cite UX when pulling out the rug from competing client apps. Adding the #dickbar kills the UX much more than banning other clients would improve UX.

The move is ignorant of Twitter's history, to the point of hypocrisy. For years, and until less than a year ago, there was no official Twitter app besides the website — and that changed with Twitter's high-profile acquisition of the impressive one-man company Atebits and its Tweetie for iPhone and Tweetie for Mac. Had this rule been in effect two or three years ago, the lovely Pull to Refresh mechanism invented for Tweetie may have never happened. Twitter would have to develop an iPhone app in-house, and it's hard to imagine it being better than Tweetie was.

It's a backstab of a move because third-party apps not only contributed the word "tweet" and the "blue bird" graphic association to Twitter, but absolutely were key to Twitter's early success. I used to use Twitterrific all the time to tweet from my Mac without having to open a browser and log in to Twitter's then-ugly website.

It's personally insulting to me because I've been on Twitter since 2007 and yet Twitter thinks I'm not capable of using a third-party client with becoming hopelessly confused.

It's dishonest because we saw Twitter founders on TV and in magazines telling us about how they just want to grow the community and not take advantage of users, acting like a neutral platform, not selling the company because they are motivated by a hippy-programmer sense of love for humanity instead of money.

Lastly, the move definitely recalls to mind Alex Payne's post in which he expressed concern over a lack of support for federalizing or decentralizing the Twitter platform2 so that it was no longer something Twitter controls completely. Moves like this endear no one to Twitter, the company, as they hurt Twitter, the platform.

  1. “If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service.” Not banished, but some have observed it seems Twitter will be looking for excuses to disable such apps. ↩︎

  2. “Some time ago, I circulated a document internally with a straightforward thesis: Twitter needs to decentralize or it will [eventually] die. … I argued this case at Twitter, and lost.” ↩︎

March 12th, 2011
Alan Hogan (@alanhogan_com).  Contact · About