Twitter to developers: “We already own the market, so we don’t need to kick you out, but we’re doing it anyway.”

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According to Ars Technica, Twitter sent its third-party developers one hell of a breakup letter, stating in no uncertain terms that they needed to quit building client apps.

The rationale:

“We need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way. This is already happening organically–the number and market share of consumer client apps that are not owned or operated by Twitter has been shrinking. . .”

writes Ryan Sarver, Twitter platform team member.

Ok, I’ll go with it. At least, until Ars Technica mentions this:

“[Sarver] contends that over 90 percent of Twitter’s audience is now using a client built by the company rather than a third-party offering such as TweetDeck or Seesmic.”

I don’t know about Sarver, but if 90% of my users were already on the company-developed platform, I wouldn’t be calling that a fragmented market. In fact, I’d be wielding so much market power I wouldn’t need to write a letter telling developers to quit. It would be pointless for them to continue, because owning 90% of a market pretty much screams established monopoly.

So, what’s Twitter’s real motivation behind the announcement? According to the article, in addition to the not-so-polite dev cease and desist, there’s an overhaul of their TOS, beefing up the restrictions to playing on its playground:

“The changes to the terms of service that were introduced today prevent third-party developers from displaying data from alternate services alongside data from Twitter’s APIs. The intention is to block developers from presenting their own trending topics or follower recommendations in Twitter client applications. Sarver hints that more significant changes could come in the future, possibly including limits on what words applications use to describe features.”

My guess? Ads.

Twitter has been playing with promoted (paid) topics and accounts, right? And it would be a really big inconvenience for Twitter if the guys who made Tweetcaster, Tweetdeck, and all the other clients wanted to play that game, too.

Rather than just come out and say that (because nobody likes a company that’s interested in making money), Twitter spins the story.

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About fireandvice

I am a woman with incendiary vices. Psychotherapist by day, writer by night.

24 Responses to Twitter to developers: “We already own the market, so we don’t need to kick you out, but we’re doing it anyway.”

  1. surlyadopter says:

    For evidence of Twitters desire to make money you need only to look at what they did to the popular 3rd party client Tweetie. After they bought it, the next version had the #dickbar.

  2. DataShade says:

    Rather than just come out and say that (because nobody likes a company that’s interested in making money), Twitter spins the story

    I’m sure there are plenty of emotionally unhealthy people who hate any corporation that makes money for the simple fact that it makes money. Those are crazy people, and if you’ve built a service whose target market is crazy people and you’re not in Pharma or psychiatric medicine, you may have a flawed business model. Another way to look at it: Twitter is profitable because they have a large community of users. Read and the founder’s business theory, “Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy.” Consider this: if companies build markets by building a community, then who owns that community? The answer, to quote a recent TechDirt article, is “shut up.” If you’re nominally in charge of overseeing a community, and you have to ask who owns a community, and your business model requires you to have a large, healthy community in order for you to profit, you have made a terrible mistake.

    In another post I pointed out how you don’t have to be first-to-market to be an innovator, how Edison actually “stole” (refined, updated, improved) most of the things he’s known for inventing. Techdirt’s editors like to use the phrase “when you can’t innovate, litigate,” to describe the tendency of companies to be dynamic and innovative right up until they control the market, at which point they become hypervigilant reactionaries almost overnight.

  3. Jon Good says:

    I’d go one step further than DataShade and say that nobody owns a community, ever. They are things that are not ownable because they are made up of independent individuals (who themselves might or might not own stuff). You can’t own individuals, you can’t own the content they produce unless you’re paying them, and you can’t own the invisible, intangible bonds between human beings unless you can wipe their brains.

    As far as twitters and ads: Advertising is inherently obnoxious, but it’s sometimes necessary as a source of revenue for internet applications, and it’s a thing we agree to when we sign up for these social media things. However, that thing we signed up for is based on informed consent—we get a sense of the level of advertising and if we find that level (along with other any other perceived negatives) worth the benefits we get from the content and community, we agree to sign up. That’s fine. But what often happens is that eventually somebody in the corporate structure decides that he community members are sufficiently invested in the content that they’ll stay even if the terms of the advertising agreement change without their consent. They are leveraging people’s real commitment to each other and to each other’s ideas in order to make more money off them, while actually decreasing the quality of the community (more ads means less actual content per amount of time viewing/listening/etc). This is beyond obnoxious, it’s despicable.

    • DataShade says:

      I’d go one step further than DataShade and say that nobody owns a community, ever.

      Well, that’s not a step further; that’s exactly what I was saying. The “shut up” was the answer given to employers who think they should be able to keep an employee’s twitter or LinkedIn profile when the employee leaves, which is a question so tone-deaf the only answer it merits is “shut up.”

      Separately, I drew a distinction between owning and overseeing a community. The masthead post on the main page lists a couple of conditions that’ll get your posts or comments deleted: that’s oversight. Being in a position of oversight doesn’t confer ownership, but, to the overseer, it might imply it; thus the problems.

      • Jon Good says:

        I see what you’re getting at, I think: that in a “traditional” model of business, the overseers and the owners are synonymous, but this is not the case with social networks. Unfortunately, social networks are set up as businesses (because making money is the only reason to do anything, right?), and the business mindset is dictated by that traditional model because that’s what got those businesspeople into their positions of power in the first place.

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