The non-threat of 3rd-party apps to Twitter Inc.

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It seems widely understood that Twitter’s latest announcement of their new REST API version 1.1 is a first real step towards a more locked communications universe. As their Director of Consumer Products states: “Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. And to reiterate what I wrote in my last post, that guidance continues to apply today.”¬†Developers of client apps that display tweets and allow authoring of tweets will gradually be shut down by restricting the API that way.

My question is: why?

Twitter has become a business, backed with VC money. I understand the need to generate revenue, and at the moment we all have to believe that this will happen through advertisement. Today, ads are primarily added to the tweet stream as promoted tweets. As a daily user of Twitter myself, I have to say that I find this form of advertisement… acceptable. Other than Facebook, where the ads are taking up a lot of space on my wall (esp. on a mobile device), are annoying, and misuse my friends for promotion (something I find completely unacceptable and really bad business practice), the Twitter ad experience is unobtrusive, and often helpful. I can accept this form of revenue generation. I can quickly swipe over a promoted tweet if I’m not interested.

The fear of 3rd party client apps seems to be based on the assumption that they will find a way to block ads, or filter them out. My question, though: why doesn’t Twitter change the way those promoted tweets are inserted into the stream and exposed through their API? Why doesn’t Twitter make these tweets indistinguishable from regular tweets that show up in my stream? E.g., if they aren’t tagged any special way, and if Twitter changes the fact that only tweets of people I follow show up in my stream… or if they change their T&Cs for external clients such that they have to display promoted tweets, or else Twitter reserves the right to block requests from these clients… or, even better: why doesn’t Twitter come up themselves with the best client for Twitter, so that people naturally choose theirs and stay with it… Today, I use a 3rd party client myself, as Twitter’s own doesn’t do all I need it to do.

Twitter is entirely built upon ideas from people outside of Twitter Inc. Hashtags, mentions, retweets, and everything else that make up Twitter today have evolved out of its user base. (See the above links for some history, or this one for an overview). Threatening those who helped Twitter become what it is today seems like a bad idea to me. And I don’t see why they should feel forced to be doing that.

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