Twitter Decides To Kill Its Ecosystem: How Not To Run A Modern Company
from the big-mistake dept
This is really unfortunate news. It really wasn’t that long ago that we were praising Twitter for how it dealt with the issue of third parties building on its ecosystem. The company took a very permissive approach, letting other providers do all sorts of things that really helped to make Twitter much more valuable in the long run, including create a whole variety of client apps that really pushed Twitter. I know that my own recognition of why Twitter was valuable didn’t really come about until I started using some third party apps, that let me do much, much more and get much more value out of Twitter. However, on Friday, Twitter appeared to want to cut off all that goodwill and value adding by telling third parties (effectively) to stop making Twitter apps. It appears the company will allow a few legacy apps to be grandfathered in, but new apps-makers are forewarned to stay away. This comes a little while after Twitter shut down some third party apps it claimed were “misbehaving.”
The reasoning behind this new prohibition are, frankly, ridiculous and totally unbelievable. Specifically, it claims that “people are confused” by these third party apps. Of course, in my case, and in the case of almost everyone I know who uses a third party app (and I don’t know anyone who actually uses Twitter’s official app), we weren’t confused, we were enlightened by those third party apps providing much more context and value to Twitter. The new rules basically remove a large amount of the flexibility that the existing third party providers can use to add more value to Twitter. This is Twitter both trying to control the developer market and to take it back over itself. This is a dangerous move that could seriously hurt the developer ecosystem around Twitter, and push people to alternatives. Even if developers think they can live within the rules, these recent changes might get them to think twice about building on Twitter since it could change the rules further. As per usual, Mathew Ingram summarizes nicely why this is a bad business move, even if it’s designed to benefit Twitter’s business:
Without the help of third-party apps like Tweetie and Tweetdeck, the company likely would not have been nearly as successful at building the network (and a ready-made client like Tweetie certainly wouldn?t have been sitting there waiting to be acquired). But the ecosystem didn?t just build demand for the network — it also helped build and distribute the behavior that now makes Twitter so valuable: the @ mentions, the direct messages, re-Tweets and so on, none of which were Twitter?s idea originally. That created a huge amount of goodwill, and led to the (apparently mistaken) idea of an ecosystem.
It?s all very well for Twitter to claim ownership of all those things now, since it is their platform. And obviously there are businesses that can get away with being arbitrary or dictatorial — Apple is well known for such behavior, after all, and it is one of the most valuable companies on the planet. But this only works over the longer term if your product is so unique and compelling that people will put up with it. Is Twitter in that category?
The company may get away with this in the short-term, but this is a hugely risky long term move that seems to have a high likelihood of backfiring. Going against those who helped get you where you are is a very dangerous move. For a company that used to seem so welcoming, it’s a pretty rapid about face.