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In pursuit of business plan, Twitter riles developers

Cameron Scott | July 12, 2012
The changes Twitter is making to its API policies triggered a wave of protest among its developers, but they might be necessary for the strategy Twitter has laid out for itself to make money and keep growing its service.

The responses stem in part from the difficult relationship Twitter has had lately with its developers. After its launch in 2006, Twitter encouraged developers to get creative with its platform. Some of its core features, including retweeting, originated outside the company. Third-party applications such as TweetDeck, HootSuite, Echofon and CoTweet proliferated.

In 2010, Twitter hosted its first developer conference, dubbed Chirp. It appeared to be following the model of companies like Facebook and Google, except Twitter didn't repeat the event; it hasn't held another major conference for developers since.

"Spirits of developers were high" at Chirp and "the smell of one common thing, building the Twitter ecosystem, was in the air," Richard Grant-Gailums, CEO of Veritweet, said via email. His company verifies the identify of all its users, so no one tweets anonymously.

When Twitter acquired TweetDeck in the middle of last year, its attitude toward third-party developers cooled, Grant-Gailums said.

Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Altimeter Group, said it's not unusual for social networks that clamp down on their APIs' (application programming interfaces) use to see some backlash. "The initial approach is 'let a thousand flowers bloom,'" he said. "But then once they start blooming, the networks realize that they're missing out on monetization opportunities."

In Twitter's case, it seems the company is eyeing advertising opportunities through its expanded tweets. If the feature takes off, users "should expect that standardized advertising units will be deployed across these cards," Owyang said.

Twitter declined to comment for this article, but it is reportedly eyeing other revenue opportunities as well, such as allowing users to make a restaurant reservation or even a purchase from within Twitter.

If expanded tweets are to take on more functionality, and become a greater source of revenue, it could explain why having a standard, dependable user interface is important for Twitter.

But the way Twitter has communicated its plans has likely made its problems worse than they had to be. Its move to tighten its API rules is "on one level fair, but on another level it drives developers nuts, because they were expecting one thing and now it's another," said Robert Scoble, an early Twitter advocate who does developer outreach for Rackspace.


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