This past weekend, Twitter put their claw down, saying they will no longer allow new third party apps. They said that they want their currently existing third party apps to conform to Twitter's standards more closely and that they're adopting a zero tolerance policy for any deviance. Platform chief Ryan Sarver stated “90% of all active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis.” This conveniently comes right after Twitter introduced the 'Quick Bar' on its native iPhone app which currently carries trending topics and hashtags, but is a clear pathway for advertising (and therefore advertising revenue). A follow up survey by Syomos finds that on the the 11th of March, 2011, of 25 million tweets tweeted, 42% were from non native Twitter applications.
Bye bye birdie
Both stats have their counter arguments but there's one bottom line – Twitter has seriously ticked off their third party developers. They already created friction when they bought Tweetie and since then, have been steadily adding apps for various platforms and improving on them. A big move was when they made a desktop client for Mac OS X and made their aim of squashing competition like Tweetdeck quite public.
Here's the question, what's with the sudden change of heart? Agreed, squashing third party clients ensures more advertising and revenue potential for Twitter itself but they really couldn't have found a way around to making revenue without dissing the very people who supported them from the beginning? Twitter was meant to create an open space for opinionated people to share their vibe with other opinionated people. Developers saw what Twitter was trying to do and started building clients and literally touting Twitter. And Twitter was wide open to these developers, allowing third party apps to be built freely. I would equate Twitter's beginning with the openness of Android and now they're trying to be strict and tight like Apple. But there's a way they could have done it without being umm, how can I put this delicately… “rear ends” about it, pardon my French.
If revenue is the real reason behind Twitter's latest move, here's what I think they really should have done; they could have allowed third party developers to develop their Twitter applications, but with certain costs attached. Of course, the first cost would be the actual fee of developing a third party Twitter app, the second would be a cut of the ad revenue. Apple charges a 30% cut for in-app purchases, Twitter should charge something similar for in app advertising. Finally, Twitter should allow third party applications to have their own promoted tweets, but again, take a cut.
This process would weed out apps that are really quite pointless and allow quality third party apps to exist, with Twitter's support and without compromise to revenue. I still use Echofon on my iPhone and Tweetdeck on my desktop and only in the worst case scenario will I use the Twitter website to update. Twitter hasn't necessarily outlawed these applications yet but most likely will force them to update themselves in very specific ways so that the apps don't really improve with each update. What's actually amusing is that Facebook is slowly becoming more and more open with third party clients supporting the Facebook user experience. I'm hoping Twitter can find a middle ground between servicing the huge community that supports it and its own needs. As an active Twitter user, it would be nice if Twitter didn't throw its revenue generating methods right in my face (i.e. the Quick Bar) but is a little more subtle about it. And this is where they will need their developer community's support the most.