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Analysis of Twitter buying Tweetie

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On Friday, April 9th, Twitter announced that it’s acquiring a Twitter client called Tweetie. IMHO, Tweetie is the best iPhone Twitter client—this is a screenshot of my iPhone to show that it is one of my four most used apps. This is Ev Williams’s explanation of the acquisition:

“Careful analysis of the Twitter user experience in the iTunes AppStore revealed massive room for improvement. People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they’re not finding one. So, they get confused and give up. It’s important that we optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience.”

Acquiring an application like Tweetie is a tricky proposition. A company can acquire “underlying technology” like a Twitter search engine without taking much heat because it benefits most of the community. A company can acquire developer tools for the same reason. Acquiring an application is a more complex matter. Here are the pros and cons.

 

Pros

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Simplification for users. Twitter has officially blessed an iPhone application. If Twitter can communicate this to “the world,” then the choice of an iPhone Twitter client just got simpler for “the rest of us.” The simpler and better the Twitter experience, the more people will use it, and life is good for the entire community. Twitter now faces the challenge of communicating this blessing because you can’t tell who created an application until you drill down to the app’s iTunes page. This is all that you see at the top level.

Increase the Twitter employee talent pool. Tweetie equals Loren Brichter. Clearly he’s a talented programmer, and “owning” a talented guy like Loren is a good thing for Twitter and eventually the entire community. This factor alone justifies acquiring the company and is probably a primary reason for the decision. The more talented the Twitter engineering pool, the better it is for all of us.

Creation of a success story. Loren is proof that you can achieve fame and fortune as a Twitter programmer/developer. He could inspire many other programmers the same way that thousands of Canadians want to be the next Sidney Crosby (who probably wanted to be the next Wayne Gretzky). Clearly, there is an liquidity path in the Twitter market, and that’s good news for the Twitter developer community.

Additional resources for Tweetie development. As a Twitter-owned product, there could be more resources for the product. This could translate into faster and better revisions, more versions, whatever. (It could also mean the opposite, but I am an optimist and believe that companies are good until proven bad.) The first data point will be how good and how fast there is an iPad version of Tweetie because right now Twitterrific rocks on that platform.

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Responsive Twitter developers. If there was ever a time to ask for features in a Twitter client, this is it because developers will want to make you happy. For example, I want the Twitterrfic client to work differently. Right now, if you refresh it, you are left in the middle of tweets you’ve read and the tweets tweets that you haven’t. The ones you that haven’t read show how old they are with a yellow timestamp, but you have to scroll up to get to the top (in my case, usually 100 tweets). I’d like to always start at the top and only scroll down; then when I see the yellow numbers stop, I’ll know I’ve seen the rest before.

Cons

Competing with your friends. When I was evangelizing Macintosh in the mid 80s, it was very hard to convince companies to create a word processor because Apple published one called MacWrite. How could developers compete with the mothership? It’s hard to make the case that this acquisition is good news for Seesmic, Twittelator, Twitterrific, TweetDeck, and the other creators of Twitter clients.

Impact on diversity. The business, as opposed to emotional, impact of competing with your friends is that your friends might not create new products and enhance old ones. It’s one thing to lose to the competition because they’re better. It’s another because they were acquired, and you weren’t. (By the way, every company that loses is going to blame Twitter, not itself, so just ignore the ranting that you hear.)

Impact on funding. I’d love to know what the fellows at BetaWorks, the firm that has funded several Twitter applications such as TweetDeck, bit.ly, and Twitterfeed, are thinking right now. It’s probably along these lines: Good news: there’s a liquidity path. Bad news: if Twitter doesn’t buy the horse we funded, we’re in deep sushi. We’re going to see who has the big balls and ovaries in Twitter funding soon. Having said this, if a developer needs a boatload of venture capital to complete and market a Twitter app, the app is probably a loser anyway.


The bottom line is that it’s way too early to tell. The Twitter developer community will bifurcate: “Hallelujah, you’ve shown us the path!” and “How dare you compete with me?” But don’t forget this: Twitter can do whatever it wants, and developers can lead, follow, or get out of the way. That’s just the way it is in the real world.

Actually, the developer community will trifurcate: there will be handful of developers who shut up, take this as a challenge, and create the best Twitter products that they can. This is certain: Being inside the mothership is no guarantee of success (just ask the programmers who created products for Claris, the Apple software applications subsidiary), and ultimately, good shiitake rises to the top. Let the fun begin.

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2 Comments

  • cent

    As a long-time developer on the Twitter platform its a little bit of sting. While I don’t develop mobiles apps, a lot of what our applications (desktop/web) does rely on the success and proliferation of 3rd party mobile apps. No matter how its justified (or not), a definite line has been drawn in the sand.

    The idea that Twitter needed an official app is a bit on the weak side. There are tons of really smart folks over there and their developer community is incredible compared to any other. There were other ways of accomplishing the same goals and provide clarity for users. Not to take anything away from Loren whom I’m happy was recognized for a great Twitter app. Isn’t part of the success of OneForty.com due in part to Twitter’s lack of creating a more centralized hub for related apps?

    There’s been a lot of discussion about "hole fillers" and the developers that create them. The reason they succeed is not because they filled a hole, its because the platform was shortsighted. Twitter is turned 3 (i believe) recently. And they don’t have their own url shortner, official mobile clients (until recently), etc. No matter how you want to call it, Twitter’s popularity is owed in some part to the developers who took it upon themselves to build a business and create *new* functionality where it was obvious Twitter had not thought to do so itself. It’s this type of community that Apple once had and supported (anyone even go to a MUG any more?).

    I already know there has been an exodus of developers which is extremely disappointing. While a lot of developers including myself will continue to support Twitter’s ecosystem the party doesn’t feel the same any more.

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