Twitter: Vacuum or Airlock

Yesterday saw the arrival of the new version of the official Twitter client. This app is a strong departure from its roots as Tweetie. The app is an orthogonal shift from its origins as an opinionated app, focused on being productive with your timeline. The new client feels much more like ‘Twitter with training wheels’. It has been given a softer feel, a dramatically simplified use model, and has started a junk drawer (the ‘Me’ tab) for collecting all the features that no longer fit in their simplified model.

In all the commentary that followed the announcement, a particular tweet stood out to me.

“The new Twitter is good for the ecosystem. It’s got a real simple feature set for new users and advanced users will go elsewhere. #WinWin” — Paul Haddad

Paul is one of the authors of Tweetbot, my preferred twitter client. It is hard to know if that is hopeful optimism or genuine opinion. Twitter has recently had a slew of run-ins with 3rd-party developers. Generally giving the impression that while they appreciate the help they provided in building the success of Twitter, they no longer see them as essential to the success of the platform.

This change in direction creates a vacuum. It creates a void for users of Twitter that need or demand more from their interaction. Currently that void is filled by 3rd party developers. Developers who can make clients that remove friction from advanced use. That allow for individual tastes and style to be reflected in client choice. Question is, “Does the new Twitter app foster this vacuum, or is it throwing the 3rd party apps out an airlock.”

Twitter’s revenue model is clearly going to be built around advertising. Around finding ways to convert the attention of its millions of users into a steady stream of income to support the platform. They have begun the movement towards this with their Promoted Tweets mechanism, and even toyed with bringing it to the iPhone with their ill fated #DickBar fiasco. Given this, it is very understandable that Twitter needs to control the way in which users are interacting with the platform. If users only see Twitter via a 3rd party client, that doesn’t show or promote the advertising model, then Twitter is loosing potential revenue.

Personally I have a hope, albeit a long shot. I would love for Twitter to actively promote the 3rd party client market. To encourage a breath of clients. To handle the advertising/revenue problem I’d suggest that Twitter move to start charging a nominal access fee for new users accessing twitter via the any non official client. This would only apply to a few core API methods so that add-on services like Instagram & Foursquare could continue to operate. In exchange, these clients would then be free to not show advertising, Promoted Tweets, or any of those marketing tools. I suspect the percentage of users who use a 3rd party app is relatively small so wouldn’t likely impact the value of their advertising network, but if it did then Twitter would be making their money from direct sales. As a user I’d see that as a Win-Win, I’d get to keep the experience I know and love without Twitter having a looming business reason to kill it.

David Smith