Twitter’s changes: Thinking Ahead

by: dermdaly

It was reasonably late last night in Ireland when the changes to the Twitter API was announced. My initial reaction was similar I guess to John Gruber’s. I was concerned about what it meant to developers; I thought the matrix in the announcement was very “un twitter”.

But I’ve since calmed. I don’t hate it it that much. Yeah; Twitter won’t be as great as before, but at then end of the day it will either be good enough, or not. I think I summarised it ok in a tweet:


I think its easier to drill into this with a few bullet points:

  • Twitter was never really about the user experience. People came to it for the content. Or more correctly for the conversations
  • Great clients like Tweetbot provide the great experience, but using tweetbot is simply a choice I make of a tool to access twitter by. It was never “I like tweetbot so I should use twitter” (that would of course be backwards)
  • Twitter are now trying to take control of the client experience, presumably to monetize it
  • They have to do this; without monetization twitter would fail, and we’d have no twitter anyway
  • The “new twitter” experience will presumably have ads and/or promoted tweets
  • Lots of users will hate this
  • More users (than the previous point) won’t hate it, nor will they care
  • If the experience turns out to be terrible, people will stop using twitter if and only if getting off twitter is more acceptable than seeing ads
  • This is unlikely, as we really like the conversations we have there
  • Or more specifically, the larger general public won’t leave because Beyoncé (or Justin Beiber or whoever) is still on it, and the main reason they are on twitter themselves

It strikes me that many earlier adopters of Twitter (say the first 5 million users) consider that they own twitter because they were around from the start. They where the ones who explained it to their friends, even when their friends were skeptical. But you don’t own it. And, if it were to continue without appreciable revenue, it’ll be gone anyway. So it is changing.

Unfortunately, the changes are deeper to the seasoned twitterer than newer members. But hey – The seasoned guy is probably harder to advertise to and so forth.

I think the group with the most legitimate gripe is the developers. Twitter was launched with a basic web site, and an API which allowed Twitter to say “Knock yourself out – lets see what you can do”. And developers answered amazingly. There are great apps out there; and this undoubtedly meant that twitter could be available on every browser, desktop and mobile device with no development cost. Those developers did twitter a great service. They are getting the two fingers from Twitter, and this is wrong. (Who’s idea was the arbitrary “200% from today” crap anyway?)

I think this has yet to play out more. It is a calculated risk by Twitter. It may yet get tweaked. I don’t think Twitter will eat itself from within with crappy changes; If something is causing too much of a push back, they’ll alter course.

Twitter’s making their omelette. We’re seeing the inevitable breaking of a few eggs.

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  1. Neil Kerr

    Some great points raised in this post. I really struggle to see why people are getting upset about the whole situation. Twitter is a business and I would imagine that at some point they will want to start making (serious) money. By having third parties providing end users with access to the data feed they don’t control what people see and can’t ensure that sponsors / promoters are getting a return on their investment.

    Sure there is outrage from the development community but honestly, if you decide to build your business based on a data feed and API that you have no direct control over then don’t be surprised when things happen that you don’t necessarily agree with. I appreciate that’s a tough stance but Twitter owes developers nothing. You could argue that that is unfair as it was the third party developers who helped build and promote Twitter but please reread the first sentence of this paragraph

    I have chosen to invest in ( not as an anti-Twitter stance, I’m fine with Twitter and what they want to do, I’m hoping that as there is a financial investment to be part of the community on it will provide a richer experience with a higher signal to noise ratio.

  2. Nick Naylor

    I agree, but I think it is more than just being annoyed with ads. The native twitter apps don’t possess the functionality that anyone who is more than a novice or extremely casual user of twitter needs. If I was forced to use Twitter for iPhone, my usage would drop dramatically as the experience of being on twitter would just not be the same. The backlash from this would have been lessened if twitter had accompanied their announcement with the release of updated (and decent) apps.

    I understand the reality that sites have to monetize. That doesn’t make this development any easier to swallow. Twitter is a daily bit of fun for me, that is likely going away.

  3. Mikael "MMN-o" Nordfeldth

    I think it’s a rather clear sign that Twitter is trying as hard as it can to lock users in to the monopoly they can never have.

    As a StatusNet user ( and other inter-communicating federated social web services) I have a third-party perspective from my StatusNet instance.

    Twitter has locked itself out from the federated web, but I still do enjoy reading “tweets” from their network despite my federated approach with StatusNet. So I use the integration feature – all posts from Twitter get imported to my StatusNet instance over the API.

    …but no more after the “display requirements” changes. Unless of course I change all my “repeat” to “retweet” and add a friggin’ Twitter button specifically in the top right corner of every individual notice.

    So this will likely hurt third party integrations of Twitter feeds. And Twitter has everything to lose if the people actually using their data don’t/can’t continue using it in a free fashion.

    And remember that the only reason they have to monetize is because they’re a huge-ass centralised site. If we federate and open-source the web, less money is required to maintain it.

  4. SoItsComeToThis

    I agree there is no need to panic about Twitter. The market will dictate what they do in the long run. Don’t forget that Facebook and G+ are trying to compete (and replicate to a degree) Twitter. If Twitter does something that doesn’t work and causes their users to flee, they’ll change.

    If they want to “monetize” they need to attract people to use the service and if it’s not valuable to them (or less so when things were more “free”), they’ll leave.

    I do find it ironic that you didn’t link to the tweet. Already there is less value for me (and you) because now I have to go search for what was said or question the accuracy of the quote.

  5. dermdaly

    Fair point. I’ve updated the post to embed the tweet.


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