Why Your Complaint About Twitter Is Wrong
July 2, 2012
I know I usually try to be a thoughtful tech writer, but sometimes, holy shit you guys.
Twitter, because of their API, actually was a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way. I had debates with my other tech-nerd friends about whether Twitter could be one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet via their powerful API. ... In this scenario, Twitter would have turned into something like a realtime cloud API company.
That's Dalton Caldwell (with my emphasis added), who is a very nice guy, but does nothing to break the pattern that everything I read on the Svbtle network exists solely to infuriate me for no good reason. I even tend to agree with him, and that's why it's worth questioning our conventional wisdom.
Here's the thing: I love the idea of a realtime cloud API company! I'm that dude. I write long, rambly blog posts about it, just like I did about Twitter itself, back when it was young. I love this kind of idealism.
But. Nobody wants a realtime cloud API company. I mean, I want one, but speaking from a statistical standpoint, that isn't what any normal person wants. For those who are geeky enough to want something, it ends up looking like Urban Airship or any one of the many other delivery as a service startups. Those realtime delivery thingys are awesome, but nobody would argue that they become the kind of household name brands that one represents entirely with a pictographic bird logo.
So why are smart folks like Dalton writing things like this? Why is Nova Spivack talking about a Twitter API problem? Because, in addition to some worthwhile technical requests, they're lamenting that Twitter isn't just for geeks anymore. This isn't some nefarious plan by the tyrannical cabal that controls Twitter to create a Horrible Commercialized Network For Kardashians; It's a result of the fact that so many normal people showed up to use the service.
Geeks are lamenting that they don't dominate and control this network, and expressing it in the only way we know how: Through technological triumphalism. If the culture of a giant network doesn't resemble the culture we prefer, then it must be a problem that can be solved by making the network more technically complicated.
What About The Open Web, Maaan?
Don't get me wrong; I would love if it made sense for Twitter to be some hippie utopian open protocol that also happened to support a multi-billion dollar company. That'd be great. But the amount of Kremlinology and hand-wringing over one short blog post from Michael Sippey that I've seen in the past few days reveals that people's concerns are not about what Twitter is doing, but rather the core technical community's own feelings about the fact they don't determine what Twitter is anymore.
Now, full disclosure, Michael Sippey's a friend and we worked together for more than half a decade. I haven't talked to him about his blog post, but this is a guy who was onstage with Steve Jobs at the original launch of the app store for the iPhone. He's not some crazy kid who doesn't understand how platforms work!
Yet we've got a lot of people using Aaron White's post as an example of Twitter's new clampdown on developers. I'll say this, because it's not Aaron's day job and he has other projects going on: His app TweetFavor should be shut down. It's an app for prompting others to robo-tweet about a project. It encourages people to repost crappy, spammy tweets, and that's when it's working properly. Now, Aaron did it as a quick hack to show off some tech, so I understand he was just scratching an itch, but man am I glad I don't have to read what that app would output in my timeline.
The other big example being used to raise alarms about Twitter's new direction? The disconnection of tweets from LinkedIn. Okay, show of hands, who loves that LinkedIn tweet integration? Who's gonna say Twitter sucks for taking away that awesome read-tweets-in-LinkedIn experience?
It’s inspiring to know Twitter’s pursuing SO many different ways to suck faster.Takes some serious vision to ruin something this awesome.— Merlin Mann (@hotdogsladies) July 1, 2012
I'm no expert, but I didn't think Merlin was that big a fan of LinkedIn. Huh.
It's about the ecosystem!
The most insidious and wrong-headed objections to Twitter's not-yet-disclosed future moves is the idea that somehow Twitter's moves are affecting the diverse and flourishing ecosystem around Twitter's API. Now, to be clear: The company needs to address uncertainty and doubt around their API intentions in order to make developers feel safe.
But diversity of the developer community? Let's take a look. Lots of people keep pointing to Tweetbot as an example of the kind of great third-party development that encourages a diverse ecosystem of Twitter developers.
Here's geek-beloved Tweetbot developer Paul Haddad on the diversity he wants to see from the developer community:
So all the folks pushing the women in tech issue are equally committed and supportive of men in nursing, right? twitter.com/tapbot_paul/st…— Paul Haddad (@tapbot_paul) May 25, 2012
Here's Twitter's statement on the topic from last week:
We are working with Girls Who Code, a new program that will empower high school girls to pursue a career in technology. blog.twitter.com/2012/06/workin…— Twitter (@twitter) June 26, 2012
Yes, why indeed isn't Twitter taking hints from this community about how to encourage more diversity amongst developers? If you want a diverse set of applications in an ecosystem, you have to have a diverse community of developers. Right now, the apps championed as innovators in the narrow, legacy tech community around Twitter are visibly fighting against those new voices entering the community. Is it any wonder why?
Sure, Twitter's made lots of mistakes with their ecosystem. But their track record of keeping it vibrant and growing is a lot better than most of the critics, and reflects a user focus that few other companies have. They can absolutely do a better job of making their branding consistent, but I'd rather have a few dusty corners in some Twitter apps than be cobbling together a hodgepodge of apps from developers who want to close the door behind themselves.
- Earlier: Clouds for People, or the Consumerization of the Cloud
- Next: JOMO!