Like a Headless Chicken

I have never had the privilege(?) to see a a chicken after its head was cut off, nor do I ever want to. What I used to picture growing up was a bloody, but oddly comical scene, of a headless chicken aimlessly running around Ozzy Osbourne. Now after witnessing the transgressions of the Twitter crew over the past few months, well I just picture it as a very, very, sad thing.

Twitter is acting like the proverbial headless chicken.

I have been a passive Twitter user for a very long time, more recently becoming a much more active user. Twitter has become one of the last social networks that I even bother with using, let alone actually liking. Up and until about a month ago I was pretty happy with the state of being at Twitter 1 — things were moving swimmingly.

Then Twitter got its head cut off.

Instead of getting the warm and fuzzies when I read about what Twitter is doing next (like I do with say Square), I get the voice in my head that says: “crap what now?”

It feels like Twitter is aimlessly running with two general goals right now:

  1. Make money!
  2. Get more users!

Both are valid, but I always used to see Twitter as having these goals:

  1. Be awesome!
  2. Don’t be jackasses! (e.g. Microsoft and Google of late)

The difference is huge. The latter was a company that was building a service that they used, loved, and wanted to continue loving. The former is building a business at the user’s expense for the sake of VCs.

That’s not to say that Twitter can’t build a business — they should — and it’s not to say that the two are mutually exclusive — they aren’t. Instead of integrating the goals, or simply adding them on, Twitter has decided that these goals are mutually exclusive and that sucks.

It is very clear that Twitter dropped their old mentality with the approach they are taking towards third party developers — they are treating them with blatant disrespect and using a cloak of vagueness to hide it (albeit poorly).

Respect

The first blow came with the not-so-subtle, shall we say, “encouragement” that developers should no longer make full-featured Twitter clients. OK, we get it you don’t want people partying on your lawn anymore.

Then came the outright crippling of the usability of all these apps under the cloak of “security” with the forced change from xAuth to OAuth for DMs.

Now we get the TweetDeck acquisition that lands another sucker punch to third party developers.

TweetDeck has a pretty large user base, all while being a pretty crappy Adobe Air app 2 that Twitter is more than talented enough to replicate. Yet instead of going out and making their own version of TweetDeck, they rewarded that developer with a large cash payout (oddly enough more than I bet the poor VCs get back from Twitter in the end).

Essentially this tells other developers that they now have two options:

  1. Continue developing in a hostile environment with ever changing rules, for a company that doesn’t want you developing for it.
  2. Get your user base big enough that Twitter will pay for you to stop developing your app.

Of course Twitter has said they will keep TweetDeck around — I for one am not holding my breath on that one. 3

The respectful thing to do would have been to say that they are ceasing to allow full API access in six months time — no exceptions, unless of course they buy you. That would at least show your community the respect it deserves and allow them the time to plan for transitions to the future. Instead Twitter have decided to leave developers wondering: “what’s next?”

It’s the equivalent to being invited somewhere and saying: “maybe I’ll stop by, maybe.” Answering so is just disrespectful to the host that is trying to plan things. While rejecting third party apps outright would be an outrage for developers and users, it would at least be honest.

Million Directions, No Course

The craziest thing is that even though Twitter is very clearly focused on growth and money — they seem to be going a million different ways with it.

Add the quickbar with promoted trends in a highly popular client, remove it and apologize. Add cumbersome rules for other developers. Spend tons of money to buy an Adobe Air app.

Look at these three things and tell me what the strategy is? It looked like with the first one Twitter was going to try and monetize the service with paid ads and the like. Then they decided to put that to bed and start being cranky to the developer community, seemingly to push use back to their free (and ad free) apps. Then they blow a wad of cash on another app that is free and lacks ads.

So what Twitter now has done:

  1. Annoyed users
  2. Pissed off developers
  3. Bought a free Adobe Air app

What they are still lacking: money.

They went from looking for more ways to inject advertising (the revenue model of choice for Twitter) to looking for ways to force users on to their platforms, that lack a revenue model.

User Base Argument

It’s easy to say that they are clearly working on building the user base to make a larger play for money. The problem though is that, as I have talked about, their current strategy of using promoted items is not an ideal option. So it looks like they are building a massive user base and raising costs for the end game of a boost in advertising rates.

Then of course you better hope there are actually advertisers out there willing to pay those rates so that everything stays in the black. Which of course when you serve very few ads in very discrete locations — well to survive doing that you need to have very high prices. Very high ad prices mean that there are very few companies that can afford to pay you.

Google makes money off of a volume play, not of a tightly focused play. There is a difference.

I don’t know how often I say this, but I will say it again: lots of users don’t equal money.

Competing Network Argument

Many have stated that if Twitter didn’t buy TweetDeck that it would have joined up with UberMedia to create a rival network. Thus the acquisition was a defensive move.

Let’s put that to bed right now: you don’t worry about a new competing network that has yet to be built and doesn’t have any current users. That’s like driving down the road constantly worrying that every other car is actively trying to run into you.

Thus Twitter just paid $40 million to get users that they already had and that aren’t likely going anywhere…

End User

In the end though it is the users of Twitter that are getting dicked around with the most. They will see cumbersome logins now just to use the apps that they prefer using (thanks to OAuth). They will likely see a reduced choice set of Twitter app offerings (thanks to Twitters strong discouragement). They will begin to see less discrete advertising (thanks to the need for money).

The walls are closing in, Twitter only wants you to use official Twitter products with their service so they can control every aspect of the service. They have every right to do so, but they should be very cautious of the fact that Twitter, since its inception, has very much not been a walled garden. Twitter has very much always been a place where you could participate no matter what your preferred tool was.

Such a massive change is never met with open arms.

?

I can’t decide if Twitter is the chicken aimlessly running around Ozzy, or if they have just lost their soul — maybe both.

  1. Aside from my worries that they may soon run out of people willing to give them money.
  2. Don’t bother emailing me anything positive about Adobe’s Air platform — it sucks and you know it.
  3. I give it two years tops. Yes, I may eat these words.
Originally posted for members on: May 26, 2011
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