Yesterday, Twitter announced a few changes to their API. They’re steadily squeezing out third-party clients like Tweetbot, Echofon and Dabr, and they’re removing unauthenticated API calls. The latter means that every Twitter app, no matter how minor, will require a “Sign in with Twitter” button. For me, the immediate effect of this is that my Klout parody Klouchebag, along with a few other things I’ve designed, will die.1
Needless to say, I’m disappointed.
Now, if you follow a small amount of people on Twitter, and they communicate using Standard English — or the equivalent in your own language — then it’s worth stepping outside the bubble every so often and doing a quick Twitter search for something like “praise God” or “One Direction”, and seeing just how often new tweets arrive.
The folks that appear in those searches are Twitter’s audience. Those are the users that Twitter can — and I hate this word — monetize. Those users look at promoted tweets. Those users talk about promoted topics. Those users bring in the cash. I’m not making a judgment about the content of those messages, by the way, or the people behind them: I studied linguistics at university, and one of the first things that’s drilled into you there is descriptivism. Never tell people how they should communicate; merely describe it. Those folks are using Twitter in a way that works for them.
I am, however, making a judgment about Twitter’s apparent decision to prioritise the majority of their users over the technical, non-revenue-earning minority. Us techies? We use our third-party clients that don’t show ads. We start doing interesting things with data, and then we share it with the world — putting a decent load on Twitter’s servers at the same time. We don’t make Twitter any money doing those things. Twitter’s decision makes fine business sense but, frankly, it’s rude.
“But wait,” I hear you say, “techies do make Twitter money! We contribute to their ecosystem! We produce things that keep Twitter alive!” Maybe that was true a few years ago. But now, us techies are just bouncing ideas round our echo chamber. I should know: Klouchebag bounced around that same echo chamber a few months ago. Klouchebag got into TechCrunch, Mashable, Wired magazine, CNN.com, and dozens of other media outlets besides. It was astoundingly popular. People I didn’t know came up to me at events and congratulated me on making it. They’d say ‘it went everywhere!’, and that ‘loads of people were sending it to them’.
Here are the stats: Klouchebag got around 250,000 visits in its first week, and 20,000 the week after that. Does that sound like a lot? It shouldn’t, not by comparison to other success stories out there. On the scale of viral projects I’ve made, it doesn’t even reach the top 5. But my word, did it ever bounce around this echo chamber. I got several job offers off the back of it. As far as my Twitter bubble was concerned, it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.
Only it wasn’t.
Twitter will go on just fine without Klouchebag. They’ll go on just fine without third-party apps when, sooner or later, they start to turn off access to them. The majority of Twitter’s users, and particularly the ones that the company’s modern incarnation cares about, will be happy with the official clients and web site. They’ll be happy with the occasional ad. Hell, many of them are happy following accounts that do nothing but spout vague platitudes and occasional sponsored tweets.
Most of us techies will stay on Twitter too, at least for now, because our friends are there and our followers are there. Maybe we’ll steadily migrate away, maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll have a look at media darling app.net. I sincerely hope app.net is planning to charge less than $50 a year for their final version, incidentally, or it’ll end up as a private little gated-community Twitter for the rich kids. To hell with that.
And in six months or so, Klouchebag will be dead. I probably won’t bother developing for Twitter any more: the entry barrier of making people "Sign In" isn’t worth it unless the joke is absolutely staggering which — let’s face it — it won’t be. Twitter will have made a sound business decision, our filter bubble will be a bit less interesting, and the world will move on.
There is just one thing that irritates me, though: Klout will have won. Not just in terms of survival, but in terms of culture. Fewer cheap and dirty jokes. More monetization. That, above all, is why I’m disappointed.