By Harry McCracken | Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm
Twitter isn’t wild about third-party Twitter clients. In a new message to developers, Ryan Sarver of Twitter’s platform team dwells on the downside of Twitter clients that aren’t controlled by Twitter. saying that they can be confusing and may not follow good privacy practices or adequately hew to the service’s terms of service. What Twitter users need, Sarver says, is a consistent experience across multiple platforms. So the company doesn’t want anyone developing new Twitter clients aimed at consumers, and says it’s going to hold developers of existing clients to “high standards” of consistency and privacy.
This philosophy isn’t going to have any impact on me–at least not immediately and directly. I mostly use Twitter’s own Web site, the official Twitter clients for iOS and Android, and the excellent, still-okay-because-it’s-n0t-aimed-at-consumers service HootSuite. But I still regret what Twitter is doing.
The statement expresses concern over the possibility of third-party apps baffling users by being inconsistent with Twitter’s own apps and experiences. But the company’s statement says that 90 percent of Twitter members use official Twitter apps, and that the top five ones all come from Twitter itself. Sounds like the teeming masses are already mostly fully onboard with Twitter’s version of Twitter. So why stand in the way of users who want something different? Isn’t it possible that the ten percent who choose to use something other than Twitter’s own clients are smart people who know what they’re doing, not confused newbies?
Twitter, of course, gets to call the shots about its platform. But it seems to me that third parties have been very, very good to the service. Tweetie (now the official Twitter app for iPhone) didn’t start out as an official Twitter product. It was an inspired, enormously popular piece of work. TweetDeck (recently acquired by Twitter nemesis UberMedia) isn’t an official Twitter product. Its approach to Twitter clearly speaks to millions of people. A Twitter that depends on Twitter, Inc. itself for all new innovations aimed at consumers runs the risk of being a far blander, less innovative place.
Twitter has always been a uncommonly subtle beast. It’s many things to many people, and many people don’t undertand it period. It’s even seemed at times that the people who founded and run service don’t understand it as well as some Twitter users do. The brushoff to third-party client developers is happening at the same time that Charlie Sheen’s Tweets are attracting millions of followers. Some say the Sheenization of Twitter has increased the valuation of the service and therefore makes Twitter’s owners even more prosperous. As far as I can tell, Twitter is happier to have Charlie Sheen around than it is to have creators of third-party clients on board.
There’s absolutely no connection between the client news and the Sheen news. Even so, they strike me as being intertwined on a karmic level. Poor troubled Charlie Sheen isn’t doing a thing to make Twitter smarter and more interesting or make the world a better place. But many developers of third-party clients have done so. They could continue to do so with Twitter’s assistance–and I hope they get that opportunity.