Twitter mimics Facebook, kills own ecosystem

Twitter mimics Facebook, kills own ecosystem

Summary: Has Twitter signed its own death warrant?


Twitter's decision to block LinkedIn and other "inconsistent" applications from using its data feed could kill the Twitter developer ecosystem, at exactly the time it needs it to grow revenue.

Like most online services, Twitter has rules about the way developers of third-party applications can use its application programming interface (API). But Twitter's are stricter than most, going beyond technical and legal rules that help prevent overloading the network or getting people sued, to include "display guidelines" of how tweets must appear in different contexts.

When the Patch Monday podcast discussed Twitter on its fifth birthday in March 2011, Australian developer Jeff Waugh dismissed concerns about the API rules.

"My perspective on it, having read the announcement email and their new terms of service, is that it's much more about focus than kicking people out or denying clients access or anything like that," Waugh said. "Twitter has to build a business out of this amazing platform that they've created."

That business imperative is becoming urgent.

Twitter is now valued at US$8.4 billion, following a US$300 million investment in December 2011 from Saudi prince Al Waleed Bin Talal. The company hopes to float on the stock market in a year or so, yet its estimated revenues in 2011 was a mere US$140 million, expected to grow to only US$260 million in 2012. That will need to improve to prevent Twitter's share price doing a Facebook-plummet.

And now Twitter is kicking people out.

LinkedIn has been denied access. Twitter's blog post on the issue hints at further evictions to come, with even stricter rules to be announced in the next few weeks.

On Patch Monday this week, we discuss Twitter's future: it's a picture of uncertainty.

In Twitter's early days, the openness of its API was "kind of unprecedented", according to Henare Degan, co-founder of Bleeply, who make Twitter tools for business. Third-party developers were told that Twitter, itself, didn't want to build client software. Now, that's changed.

"They've worked out what their place is in the world, and they're now trying to say 'This is part of our core functionality, we don't want you to do this', [and] they were really explicit about saying 'Don't build clients that do exactly what Twitter does'. [But] people were like, 'Hang on, but you actually told us to do that originally," Degan said.

Twitter is trying to turn into Facebook, said Leslie Nassar, technology director at digital agency Amnesia Razorfish and founder of TweeVee TV, which provides tools for integrating Twitter with live television.

"To me, they're really just turning into every other social network ... Facebook with 140 characters. Facebook with less functionality," he said.

"Facebook just went public and, for whatever reason, Twitter has made all these changes that are making them more and more like Facebook. And one of the first changes has been to have a similar regard for developers, where they'll just change the terms whenever they feel like it."

TV programs may use Twitter for live interaction at the moment, but Nassar said that networks could easily switch to something else and the fans would follow them. Both TweeVee TV and Bleeply could easily integrate a new network's messaging into their products, the developers said.

Twitter's blog post is all about making things better for marketers, creating "more interactive experiences within expanded Tweets", making it easy for users to "discover even more great content on Twitter".

"The technology behind expanded Tweets — Twitter cards — gives developers and publishers a way to tell richer stories on Twitter, directly within Tweets, and drive traffic back to their sites," the company wrote.

Twitter has discovered that marketing is their real business, according Kate Carruthers, business strategist and founder of Social Innovation.

"A lot of people on Twitter are wanting to get their messages out, and that's why Promoted Tweets is working for them," she said. That's creating a tension between Twitter's original user base, which came out of the creative and developer communities, and its new role as a mass market platform.

Said Nassar: "If you want to see what the future of Twitter is, and get some evidence of the MySpaceification of the Facebookification of Twitter, I think you need to look at these new brand pages that they've started experimenting with, like [the one for] NASCAR."

But can Twitter negotiate this change and increase revenue, without alienating users and developers?

To leave an audio comment on the program, Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney 02 8011 3733.

Running time: 34 minutes, 15 seconds.

Topic: Social Enterprise


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • Does the Author have any interest in "Linkedin"?

    I only ask, because the whole article makes such a massive fuss over what appears to be a rogue website that can't ensure it's security adequately and when found with it's pants down, gives out a very un-encouraging response.

    To be quite Frank, I would sever ties with LinkedIn as well. In fact, I already did. I closed my account with them. It's a bit naff isn't it, really, full of blaggarts that website, people making outrageous claims about their work history and job title, and full of half baked wannabe marketing people.

    If you consider Twitter giving LinkedIn the boot a bad thing, you must have some motivation WHY that is a bad thing. This article certainly tries to give some "credibility" to you assertions, and it may even fool the naive. But not I. And not anyone with half a brain cell.
    • Of course I don't, I'd have declared it if I did

      Goodness me. Where do I begin with this drivel?

      In the "article" (it's actually a half-hour podcast, did you listen to the whole thing before jumping to conclusions?), which is a discussion of Twitter's future, I didn't also talk about entirely different issues in an entirely different company — and that's evidence of bias?

      No, Sir or Madam, that's evidence of sticking to the subject!

      If you'd search on my name and LinkedIn, you'll find some pieces where I've ripped into LinkedIn for their appallingly poor privacy and security practices. As a courtesy to ZDNet I won't link to them here because they were written for other mastheads, but they're there for the finding.

      If I had some interest in or association with LinkedIn, it would have been clearly disclosed, in italics, at the bottom of the text. That's the procedure at ZDNet. Disclosing such information is part of the basic professional ethics of journalism.

      So really, what you've done here, without listening to the podcast or doing any research whatsoever, is accuse me of professional misconduct. How very dare you! By all means discuss the evidence and arguments, but if you make such an accusation again then I'm afraid I shall have to ask you to step outside.
  • Twitter has a crappy UI

    Twitter appears to have a bunch of power crazed D-Bags with poor design skills. It is almost as if they believe their UI has been canonized by Steve Jobs and Edward Tufte.

    Even their timeline layout is backwards. If 2 tweets were keyed in a normal order, they would read:

    ...and they lived happily ever after.
    Once upon a time...
  • Twitter

    Hmmh, Twitter doesn't charge a dime for it's services. Doesn't have ads..... Twitter is creating niches where it wants to. It's broken all the rules so far-by now you'd think Twitter would be charging for it's services. Nope. If they decide it best for them to not allow LinkedIn access. They've gone this far swimming against the current, and look at where they are now. Twitter has become synonymous to instant messaging as Google to search engines/searches....
    You're getting/using Twitter for free and still complaining?