I’ve been thinking a lot about the Twitter Platform and Ecosystem recently. I think it is at an inflection point, much like the desktop software and hardware business was in the mid 80s as the desktop platform started to mature. Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product.
Part of my problem with this is that when a platform is immature, developers will fill the gaps they feel need filling. Now, these gaps can be small like spam detection or larger like search or client software. Filling a small gap in an application is one way to get started, but you can’t stop there. John Battelle says it best:
Two years ago, adding value to the Twitter ecosystem meant building a good reader, or a good aggregator. But the game changes over time, and if you don’t keep moving, you will become irrelevant. Value now is not value then. That’s the life of the startup world. If you run a startup that feeds off the oxygen of a growing platform, your job is to add value in a way that continues to redefine what’s possible on that platform.
Basically, if you stop with the tiny portion of the world that you had developed, you will be overcome. When it comes to web applications, you need to continue to innovate or at least make things faster and cheaper. Standing still is not an option. However, Twitter buying Tweetie gives them their own client software. This is an interesting move because so many clients have been built and have become interesting businesses on their own. A lot of developers are complaining, but I do not think they really have a good argument. First, Louis Gray provides an excellent response to those complaints:
For years, as users and coders, we begged for Twitter to graduate from the lean startup mode, with questionable quality and uptime, to one focused on delivering an exceptional product. Now, they are executing, and the next 12 months will undoubtedly be defining in terms of how the company potentially transitions from an cash-burning endeavor to a revenue-generating technology giant.
Yes, we have complained about Twitter needing to mature, and now that they are maturing we are complaining about how they are doing it. I have a slightly different opinion of this. First, developing solely for the Twitter platform is not a great direction. As a profit-seeking company, they will do whatever is necessary to compete. If that means buying one of their favorite third party clients, they will do so. Also, assuming that a Twitter-only third party client is a long term business strategy is not the best idea. It has to be assumed that Twitter will be highly focused on mobile clients this year.
So, as John Battelle stated, you need to add value and quickly. Not just a little value, like an Android client, but a lot of value. Look at most of the third party clients. TweetDeck, Seesmic and others support Facebook and Identi.ca. HootSuite and CoTweet went the direction of more corporate software supporting multiple accounts and having more of a social dashboard. Most likely, these are features that Twitter will never support or will probably purchase one of these tools in order to make a big jump.
That brings me to my last point. Twitter just purchased Tweetie. Tweetie can be considered a small startup. Tweetie found an exit by being purchased by the platform that they develop on. This is called successful execution and exit strategy by most people. Are people just complaining because they were not the ones purchased? How about we just congratulate Tweetie and try to improve our own products? You never know if your product could be the next purchase target.