Twitter, Sharks, Jumping?

I keep reading and rereading Ryan Sarver’s post to the Twitter API mailing list, Consistency and Ecosystem Opportunities, trying to work out exactly what Twitter is trying to say with this. The message is confused and inconsistent, which is leading to various ways to read it, from “we see users being harmed” to “screw you, client developers”.

I really want to see the positive side of the message, but the more I read it, the more I tend towards the latter. The recent moves to install more investor-friendly members in Twitter’s boardroom denote an increasingly revenue-hungry bent to the company. In a similar way to the wireless carriers, Twitter seem desperate to avoid becoming merely the infrastructure and appear to want to exert control over the experience to forcibly prevent this from happening.

You could claim, as Ryan does, that this desire to control is all about improving user experience, but recent developments in the Twitter clients—“dickbar” I’m checking you out here—suggest this just isn’t the case. A better fit to the available facts is simply a desire to place adverts in front of Twitter users, and make damn well sure we’re forced to see them. There are just to many weak points to Ryan’s message to make other readings more than charitable. It feels like Twitter have finally given up on their promise to find “alternative revenue models”, rather than shoving adverts down our throats. (And I’d be more than happy for that “alternative” model to be my paying Twitter some cash directly).

If there are too many ways to use Twitter that are inconsistent with one another, we risk diffusing the user experience.

Translation: it’s hard for us to show adverts in third-party clients.

We need to ensure that tweets, and tweet actions, are rendered in a consistent way so that people have the same experience with tweets no matter where they are.

Translation: you must always link to Twitter, so we can show adverts.

Frankly, there’s a big-business streak running through the whole email and its tone signals a sea-change in how Twitter views its users. While Ryan specifically pulls out clients which go no further than mimicking the Twitter official client’s functions as a no-no, that the suggested developer directions barely mention Twitter’s users at all speaks volumes:

  • Publisher tools. […] help publishers optimize how they use Twitter, leading to increased user engagement and the production of the right tweet at the right time.

  • Curation. […] services for large media brands to […] display […] tweets for a breaking news story, topic or event.

  • Realtime data signals. […] input into ranking, ad targeting, or other aspects of enhancing their own core products. [Or enable use of Tweets for] everything from hedge funds to ranking scores.

  • Social CRM, entreprise clients, and brand insights. […] help brands, enterprises, and media companies tap into the zeitgeist about their brands on Twitter, and manage relationships with their consumers […].

  • Value-added content and vertical experiences. […] users to share unique and valuable content to their followers, while, in exchange, the services get broader reach, user acquisition, and traffic.

When talking about developers, Twitter always used to speak of giving users innovative and useful experiences; empowering actual people to better communicate. Great clients were lauded not discouraged.

Where we used to have talk of developers enabling Twitter’s use in disasters and allowing users to spread information, it’s now all about control and companies “increasing user engagement”, getting “brand insights”, “targeting adverts” and other miscellaneous marketing buzz-speak. Only the last suggestion which mentions users at all, and even then with the qualifier that sharing valuable content is a driver for business. There’s nothing about a vibrant ecosystem of clients serving different users’ needs any more—nor helping users rather than big-business.

This message is full of bullshit and exploitation of the user; Twitter, your past performance means I have come to expect better from you.

Quick update

In response to my post, my friend Simon Metson makes the great point: “what’s interesting is that the things they see as devel directions are the kind of things twitter would be able to do itself better than any third party (they have the data) and could commercialise. It’s just a lot harder to do than selling a client.”

To which the obvious reply is, “Put like that, it smacks of ‘make what we want, fight it out amongst yourselves, and we’ll buy the one who comes out on top’.”

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