August 17, 2012

Now Twitter is just a social network

Like many others, I’m dismayed by Twitter’s new API rules. Marco Arment wrote a good explanation of how these rules impact 3rd party services that rely on the Twitter API. But more generally, these changes mark Twitter’s transition from a social platform into just a social network.

The power of Twitter as a platform, and what set it apart from other social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, was specifically unfettered access by other services to tweets and follower lists. This access enabled awesome things like:

Without these 3rd party apps, Twitter becomes just another Facebook news feed that’s difficult to parse and tiring to keep up with.

Immediately, this won’t matter to the vast majority of Twitter users (see: Facebook’s millions of users). But it will matter to developers and power users, and these users move on to greener pastures. This does matter in the long run because these users drive innovation on the platform. Twitter has changed the mental calculus of developers from “I love Twitter so I’ll develop my app using it” to “can I make more money developing for Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn?”

In fact, instead of making Twitter more profitable – clearly the goal – I expect these API changes to hurt the company’s bottom line. The vast majority of Twitter users are probably already on Twitter’s website or official mobile client, so there probably won’t be big advertising revenue gains there. But as developers leave the platform and innovate elsewhere, the remaining mainstream users will follow.

It’s also worth noting that developers and other members of the tech community where Twitter’s first users. I think many of these people lost trust in Twitter as a company because of these changes. Trust really matters for developers, who stake their livelihood on Twitter not screwing them over. As Ben Brooks aptly said:

This is the moment in Twitter’s life where they kicked Steve Jobs out of the company and told Sculley to run it.

Given all this, Twitter is no longer worth my time. I don’t trust the company to let me access my data the way I want to, and I doubt we’ll see many new innovative tools and apps for Twitter.

It’s too early to tell if App.net is a viable alternative, but I’m going to do what I can drive adoption by using the platform myself. At least for now, I’ll be spending the time I spent on Twitter over at http://alpha.app.net/masnick.


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