…and thanks for the fish (Twitter v. Developers)

On March 11, 2011, Twitter said goodbye to some of its most loyal and passionate users.

In a message on their Development Talk group entitled “consistency and ecosystem opportunities” – they make their position clear: we no longer need you. To demonstrate this, let me point out a couple quotes that deserve attention:

Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience on phones, computers, and other devices by which millions of people access Twitter content (tweets, trends, profiles, etc.), and send tweets.

and this gem:

More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.

Independent, 3rd-party developers have driven the progression of Twitter from an extremely simplistic group SMS service, to a massive and near ubiquitous communications system used by millions of people. As Twitter fought whales and struggled to keep servers running, outside developers were busy building new and better ways of using the service; now that Twitter has gone mainstream and is doubtlessly looking at revenue options, they’ve told these passionate users that they are no longer needed. The users that evangelized the service, and promoted it in countless ways, suffering through long stretches of downtime remained loyal and energized, pushing the service to become ever more. Twitter, it seems, has no such loyalty to these champions and flag bearers of the service.

If you want to build an application in the Twitter ecosystem now, you are pushed to the outskirts; building integration as a feature of a separate system (such as instagram), or building for vertical markets which by definition have a far more limited market potential. This is a dangerous time to be invested in an application that relies too much on Twitter; there’s no telling what or who they will ban next.

Twitter did make it fairly clear that existing applications can “continue to serve your user base” – there was an air of a threat in the statement, and given their willingness to ban a major player, I can’t help but think that they will be looking for chances to kill off other clients, to further solidify their control of what users see.

If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service.

At best Twitter has alienated passionate users, at worst they have inspired new competition with the goal of being what many of these users wanted Twitter to become, before they shifted their strategy away from the core service, to controlling and enforcing a sub-par user experience.