There have been plenty of worries about the direction Twitter is heading lately. I’m not just referring to their attempts to monetize the service and the fear of sponsored ads and tweets directly in your stream. Hell, in a few months you might be wishing that was the least of the problems for this service. What I’m referring to is guidance that was set forth by Twitter months ago that developers “reproducing the mainstream Twitter client experience” simply shouldn’t. This was reinforced with a new set of rules today (no longer guidelines) on the use of their API and the writing on the wall couldn’t be clearer. As a visual guide they explain the current ecosystem of Twitter apps using this graph:
Twitter explained that they have no problem with any application that happens to fall in the top left, or lower left and right quadrants. And yet here’s the problem: Twitter doesn’t seem to understand that most people like their service because of an app that falls in that top right quadrant. Tweetdeck (had it not been bought by Twitter), Tweetbot, Storify, Echofon, they all are at risk with these new API requirements and the strong words from Twitter about their continued existence. It says a lot about a company that applications that are geared towards consumer engagement are discouraged in favor of applications that help businesses collect analytical data.
Dovetailing with this recent set of news is the successful funding of app.net which is billing itself as an alternative to Twitter that focuses on the user, not the advertiser. However in order to do that they charge a fee of $50 for a regular user and $100 for a developer (both an annual cost). They raised over $700,000 so clearly there is quite a bit of traction there, however plenty have voiced concerns about the fact that there are so many white males representative of the “community” and that such a high fee creates a “Country Club” atmosphere where only the privileged get to be engaged. Anil Dash has a great post that talks about why app.net in its current state is problematic.
It should also be noted that there’s nothing revolutionary about something like app.net superseding Twitter. Without a free offering, a service like app.net can’t gain the traction of a large enough number of users to be of value for a social network (I can’t justify the cost because most people I interact with are not there). And as D’arcy notes, in the end we’re handing our data off from one silo to another.
I don’t pretend to know what the answer is. Perhaps there will be a mass exodus from Twitter (if they truly have the balls to outlaw all popular third party clients this is a real possibility). Perhaps app.net will rise to become a formidable opponent. Perhaps nothing will change. Right now it feels like the goals of users and consumers in these spaces are absolutely at odds with the goals of the companies that run them. It’s problematic on many levels and I hope we see some resolution in the next few months.