Winter is coming

By far Twitter is my most used and most loved social network. It’s simple, fast and let’s me talk to people easily. The 140 character limit, unchanged since day one of the service, is still it’s biggest plus point. With no room to ramble information is passed and consumed at a far denser rate than anywhere else. It also leads to the best snarks online.

Launched almost six years ago the first Twitter was pretty bare bones. Web only, driven by texting and with a simple follow model it started slowly and didn’t really take off for another year. Like most social networks I signed up, played with it for a few days and then promptly deleted my account and left. Empty experience, most friends weren’t interested and I just didn’t get it. A few months later I re-registered and loved it. It had seen growth in the tech community, there were loads of people worth following and it had become a useful service for me.

Twitter’s feature growth was driven by it’s early adopters. Hashtags, retweeting and @ replies were officially supported by Twitter long after they had become mainstream amongst users. Third party developers drove Twitters growth via some great clients. Twitterrific was one of the first on the Mac and then the iPhone. Twitter was much more usable on a phone (computer too) via an application compared to the website. Over the last three years there’s been quite the third party market in Twitter clients with many adding features that Twitter doesn’t support – searching, archiving, muting (user, client but by far the best – hashtag) and timeline syncing across devices. All the while Twitter has been focussing on growth which makes for a richer network and brings with it the opportunity to monetise. It’s the chase of the dollar that brings with it some fear.

For many years people pondered how Twitter was going to monetise it’s service. Providing a service like Twitter isn’t cheap nor easy. How many fail whales did we see in 2008? It’s now pretty much rock solid despite it’s growth and that robustness has come at the costs of millions and millions of VC dollars. VC dollars that it now has to pay back.

Last year on it’s developer group Twitter warned third party developers.

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.

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. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained.

As we point out above, we need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way

Fairly bleak and although very little has happened since then a post on the Twitter developer blog follows up on that warning.

Ultimately, we want to make sure that the Twitter experience is straightforward and easy to understand — whether you’re on or elsewhere on the web.

We’re building tools for publishers and investing more and more in our own apps to ensure that you have a great experience everywhere you experience Twitter, no matter what device you’re using. You need to be able to see expanded Tweets and other features that make Twitter more engaging and easier to use. These are the features that bring people closer to the things they care about. These are the features that make Twitter Twitter.

I don’t need to see expanded tweets thanks very much and I’m sure the point of this post isn’t to tell third party dev’s that they need to show expanded tweets and Twitter cards. It’s adverts. It’s potentially cut down access to API’s. For me it feels like winter is coming.

What makes Twitter Twitter is the interaction with other people. Talking, sharing and learning. It works on so many levels and has brought many people together. It breaks news quicker than any other network and for many has become a key tool…even a part of their life. Now it looks like Twitter is trying to close down on what others can do with their data. That’s the bit that annoys me though. It’s my tweets. It’s my data yet I can do so very little with it.

So many people have put so much into Twitter yet can’t get any of that data back out. Over time Twitter have added more and more restrictions to their initially fully open API. The majority of users can’t see their full Twitter history. Searching across that amazingly rich data set is a joke. Why can’t I export my tweets? Why hasn’t Twitter addressed the spam issues that plague the network? These are all features the majority of users would benefit from but instead we have seen new features recently to view stories on Twitter and make it easier to drive traffic to other sites.

Twitter has opened up it’s service, invited everyone along and is now trying to own it all for themselves. It feels similar to Apple, Flickr and Facebook’s motives but Twitter for years traded on it’s open access policies. The change in tone is jarring.

I do hope this is just a badly worded blog post that is ambiguous in it’s message but I really doubt it. Already LinkedIn have removed ability to view tweets on their site and they directly referenced the Twitter post from today. When the post says “in the coming weeks, we will be introducing stricter guidelines around how the Twitter API is used.” what does that mean for TweetBot, Twitterrific et all?

If it is all about the money bring in a paid for service. This tweet from Aral Balkan sums up my feelings in 140 characters.

Twitter isn’t too big that it can’t fail. Myspace and RIM are two examples of companies that only a few short years ago were leaders in their own space. Be careful Twitter. Your next few steps could make or break your company. I dearly hope it’s not the latter.

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