I love Twitter, but I’ve been unhappy with the company since they made the decision to stop supporting third party clients that compete with their own native clients. There are still some good ones available, but Twitter has actively discouraged the development of new clients by not adding third party API support for many new features, and by limiting the supply of API keys to client developers.
In the meantime, Twitter has let the native OS X Twitter application languish. Here’s Jason Snell:
If Twitter doesn’t have the resources or inclination to properly support platforms like the Mac (or, quite frankly, iOS and Android), perhaps it should rethink the decisions made by the prior regime and find a way to let other developers apply their expertise to the problem. Alternately, maybe Twitter should figure out how to use its huge team of app developers to create first-class native apps for not just iOS and Android, but the Mac and Windows too.
It’s not a coincidence that Twitter’s updates to its OS X slowed when they decided to cut off third-party clients. The third-party client market provided two things Twitter desperately needs, competition and free research and development. When the Twitter client market was healthy, there were dozens of development teams coming up with cool new Twitter features that the company could roll into its platform. Many of the features that are core to Twitter now originated in the Twitter community.
A fully functional API that third parties can use imposes a sort of accountability on a company’s engineering team. Giving users a choice of clients or tools demands that the product team at Twitter builds applications that can succeed on their own merits. Competing with third-parties on their own platform is the sort of exercise Twitter needs to stay in shape for the bigger fight with Facebook, Instagram, and whatever else comes along in the future. Killing off that competition has enabled Twitter to be lazy and complacent.
A counterargument one might make is that supporting a full-featured API for third parties is expensive, but I’m not sure that’s the case. Twitter already has, in addition to its Web site, iOS and Android apps, and an OS X app as well. What this means is that Twitter already provides private APIs for all its features that support multiple independent client implementations. In other words, the hard work is already done. Given Twitter’s size, chances are they’ve already put a lot of thought into API usability and written decent documentation for these APIs as well.
The risks of providing robust APIs are minimal. A relatively small number of users are going to seek out and install third-party applications even if they are great. The tangible and intangible benefits are large. Twitter needs to get back into being a platform provider for its own sake.