Do you have a favorite third-party Twitter app that you use everyday? I use Tweetbot on my iPhone, iPad and Mac. I’ve been using third-party Twitter clients since I joined the social network in 2008. It’s fun to switch apps and try new clients as they are released for different devices. Many would say that Twitter has succeeded because of the developer community that made (and continues to make) such great apps. Heck, Twitter wouldn’t even have its own mobile or desktop app if it hadn’t bought Tweetie years ago.
Like any growing business, Twitter’s mission as a platform is changing. In a recent interview, the CEO of Twitter explained what kind of apps and services the company wants to have tie into its platform, and there isn’t much room left for the third-party apps we all know and love.
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo speaking with The Wall Street Journal:
As Twitter burnishes its platform, Mr. Costolo added that Twitter also wants to move away from companies that “build off of Twitter, to a world where people build into Twitter.”
Essentially, Costolo is saying that if it can’t already be done by Twitter’s own web and app clients, then don’t bother making it. In the same way that developers create applications for Facebook, apps and services should only serve to enhance the Twitter experience, not replicate it. Twitter’s new approach makes sense from a brand and financial perspective. Unfortunately, that leaves the traditional clients like Twitterrific (the app that originated “tweet,” by the way), Echofon, and even Tweetbot in the cold.
What kind of apps would Twitter continue to allow under its stricter API rules? A service like Storify is a perfect example of a service that “builds into Twitter” instead of building off Twitter. You can create linear collections of tweets to tell a story. In no way does that service service the same purpose as a standalone Twitter client like Osfoora for Mac. In fact, Storify actually prompts people to check out Twitter’s website. That’s the kind of third-party service any similar kind of social network would want to encourage.
Benjamin Mayo recently performed an unscientific survey and determined that only about a third of Twitter’s user base relies on third-party apps. While it’s undoubtedly true that the majority of Twitter users don’t know anything more than the official mobile app and website, there’s a very passionate, dedicated (albeit small) demographic of Twitter users who love third-party apps. It looks like enraging (and possibly losing) that smaller demographic is a sacrifice Twitter is willing to make, unfortunately.
Will Twitter flip a kill switch one day that shuts down all of the apps like Tweetbot and HootSuite? Probably not. Will Twitter eventually cut off API access to the point where developers can’t make full-fledged apps anymore? Probably. Get in while you still can.