Twitter’s platform director April 11 moved to assure programmers who write applications for the Twitter platform that the microblog is not trying cut off their lifelines by buying some Twitter tools that would make it impossible for others to compete.
Fred Wilson, a Twitter investor from Union Square Ventures, wrote on his blog April 7 that developers should stop writing certain obvious apps Twitter is likely to acquire or build itself.
Wilson specifically pointed to the photo uploader TwitPic and iPhone application Tweetie. He argued that developers should focus on building social games, analytics and other vertical apps that weren’t just plugging in holes in the Twitter platform.
While this raised sufficient concern among developers, Twitter really ignited a conflagration April 9 when it said it purchased Tweetie. Twitter also released what it called the “official” Twitter for BlackBerry application.
The moves seemed to prove Wilson’s point and raised the specter of a tactical move. Did Twitter’s management tell Wilson about the Tweetie buy in advance to let him write about the issue and soften the blow?
If that was the goal it backfired badly, with Twitter developers raising a ruckus on the #unionoftwitterapps hashtag. Twitoaster Founder Arnaud Meunier wrote on this hashtag: “@fredwilson said Stop Filling Holes. I guess we’re supposed to dig, create new holes, and fill them?”
Recognizing that this is not the stage Twitter wants to set days before its inaugural Chirp developer conference kicks off April 14, Twitter’s Ryan Sarver wrote on the Twitter development Google group that Twitter renamed Tweetie “Twitter for iPhone” to clear up confusion for iPhone users looking to use Twitter for the first time.
“They would head to the App Store, search for Twitter and would see results that included a lot of apps that had nothing to do with Twitter and a few that did, but a new user wouldn’t find what they were looking for and give up,” Sarver explained. “That is a lost user for all of us. This means that we were missing out an opportunity to grow the userbase which is beneficial for the health of the entire ecosystem.”
To that end, Twitter will no longer designate Twitter clients as “official,” which suggests unofficial Twitter clients are less credible:
“The BlackBerry client should never have been labeled ‘official.’ It has since been changed and you won’t see that language used with Twitter clients in the future.”
That may provide some small measure of comfort to programmers — at least they know where they stand — but Sarver also promised more acquisitions would be forthcoming, which will of course lead to more upset developers:
“To be clear, we are going to work hard to improve our product, add new functionality, make acquisitions when it’s in the best interest of users and the whole ecosystem at large.
“Each one of those things has the potential to upset a company or developer that may have been building in that space and they then have to look for new ways to create value for users. My promise is that we will be consistent in always focusing on what’s best for the user and the ecosystem as a whole and we will be sincere and honest in our communication with you.”
It’s the acquisitions that can prove deadly for third-party programmers. When Twitter bought Tweetie, it seemed to leave Tweetdeck and other iPhone apps out in the cold.
Mistrust in Twitter’s intentions abounds. At the end of Sarver’s post, Dewald Pretorious thanked Sarver for the explanation after the post, but added:
“However, to be quite frank, the argument about ‘confusion in the Apple app store’ gives off a distinct spinning sound. Very loud, in fact. It may be one of the reasons for acquiring Tweetie, but to cite it as the primary and only reason immediately sets of all flavors of BS alarms.”
That’s OK with Twitter, as long as it grows its user base of about 70 million users. Twitter developers will have to adapt and survive or stand still and perish.
In the meantime, Twitter developers are convening a venting session before Chirp April 13, according to AllThingsDigital. Sarver is expected to attend.