In an oddly revealing blog post today, Fred Wilson, one of Twitter’s investors revealed that, henceforth, the micro-blogging network plans to discourage application developers from creating services that offer search, advertising, mobile access, short URLs and photo-sharing, among other things. Twitter is also keen to reclaim the UI of Tweets and plans to do this both by dramatically upgrading it’s web offering and (we understand) muscling out the big dashboard players like TweetDeck and HootSuite.
This is a bombshell for developers and users alike.
Twitter is famous for having taken a feature (status update) and made it into a product. As a result it has always relied on 3rd party applications to fill the huge and varied holes within the service. Need to share photos? Use Twitpic. Need to manage multiple accounts? Use TweetDeck. Need to shorten URLs? Try bit.ly. These applications are critical to how we use Twitter. In fact, there’s a good argument to say that “Twitter”, as the customer knows it, is rather a suite of 3rd party applications (based on an open platform), rather than a single, giant, social network.
So what does it mean?
Well, the risk for Twitter is that it might just be biting the very hands that have fed it through that last few years of phenomenal growth. Who can honestly say they would have continued to use Twitter beyond their own personal experimental phase were it not for user-friendly applications like TweetDeck? Sure, Twitter wants to “fill it’s own holes” from now on – but to oust the incumbent apps in the minds of their users, Twitter’s own-brand apps will have to be great. But the real risk here is that they will both hamper growth in Twitter usage AND encourage the development of new or rival micro-blogging platforms, such as Google’s Jaiku.
For Twitter users there is a risk in the short/medium term that some of our favourite applications may be blocked from using the Twitter API without their in-house replacements being ready. Longer term this might be seen as the point at which Twitter closed it’s doors to creativity and began prioritising it’s bottom line over its users. That might be a little harsh – in fact it’s probably as damning a statement as it’s possible to make about a social network – but today definitely marks the end of the road for some great small companies and that’s never a good thing.