Join the Flock: Twitter's Policies Spell Doom for Innovation

Join the Flock

Twitter continues to surprise me. When the service debuted in 2006, I derided the premise of another social media site. In a world where Facebook ruled for communication, why would such a restrictive service as Twitter even exist? The 140 character limit, I thought, not only limited expression of creativity but Twitter’s viability as a mainstream site. I was wrong, of course, as Twitter grew to be a major player in social media. Word of mouth and it’s sheer third party app omnipresence on nearly every platform made Twitter work in a variety of ways. Soon enough, I found myself on the Twitter bandwagon, finding the 140 limit a great outlet for jokes and thoughts; being limited in length brought open a new world of possibilities in presentation. Twitter was cool after all, I thought, and the populace began to agree.

But popularity has the ability to change things. As Dalton Caldwell of App.net notes, Twitter started out essentially as a communications tool. Now, Twitter is changing the formula to favor “news media” at the expense of developers and users who favor innovation. This New Twitter wants you to join the flock.

WHAT’s CHANGED?

Essentially, Twitter. Starting with their API change 1.1, Twitter has moved to limit the developers who built the platform. Clamoring for a “consistent Twitter experience,” these changes mean more than ads in third party clients. No, Twitter is bringing the hammer down on all of the third party apps to peddle their own product. Ryan Sarver, Twitter’s platform lead, summarizes Twitter’s new limits on third party developers in a nice, haunting quote.

“[Developers shouldn’t] build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.”

This quote in itself is troubling. Twitter’s first party site wasn’t pretty when it first debuted, nor was it the most functional. The innovation came from the outside developers, the apps that I grew to embrace over Twitter’s site. Metrotwit. Tweetro. Twitteriffic. and Twidere. all these apps are functional and good looking apps that expand on the Twitter experience. These are the apps Twitter is trying to kill.

Innovation Through 3rd PartyiPad Screenshot 1

Once a third party client hits 100,000 users, Twitter reserves the right to stunt the app from taking on more users. Tweetro, in particular, is garnering attention as a stellar free app for Windows 8 that has quickly hit the 100,000 user wall. After consulting with Twitter on their next move, developers LazyWorm Apps was forced to re-release the app as Tweetro+, a new Twitter client with a brand new price: $9.99. The quality of Tweetro+ may justify the price, but it raises the entry barrier for new Windows 8 users and will very likely hurt Tweetro’s early success. At least Twitter has a first party app for Windows 8 though, right?

Twitter has no app for Windows 8.

You may assume this is anecdotal evidence. On other more mature platforms, such as iOS, Twitter’s has a first party app. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but my eyes aren’t lying when I see Twitter’s new iPad update is getting scathing reviews. With 438 ratings in the App Store, this version 5 update has garnered 2 stars out of 5. It’s not pretty, in more ways than one.

It’s not hyperbolic to say Twitter is killing off the apps that helped build and improve Twitter in the first place. Previously with Twitter, users had the choice to pick their client if they didn’t like the official app. Now? The third party apps are dying, and the first party app will soon be the only viable option. It’s Twitter’s way or the highway, but Twitter’s way isn’t the best and the highway is falling into intentional disrepair.

WHY TWITTER, WHY

Twitter is evolving from a social network and shifting to a “new media” role. Essentially, Twitter wants to become your news platform, where you head first to find out about breaking stories. It seems like a valiant effort, of course, but this change also has some downsides. In the name of uniformity for their “news media” platform , Twitter is pushing “Promoted Tweets,” to monetize their new venture. (That’s a fancy way of saying ads.) You might be asking why Twitter needs to “standardize their user experience” to push you ads, and it’s a valid question. 3rd party clients could easily comply and put
Promoted Tweets in their timeline. But New Twitter isn’t one for compromise.

It’s a puzzling situation that will only continue to worsen. Twitter’s hiring motto of Join the Flock sums up New Twitter’s new philosophy quite nicely: conform with Twitter’s standards or not at all. Twitter’s moves, if continued, spell doom to the developers and choice that had helped popularize the experience in the first place.

Twitter continues to surprise me.

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