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The Twitter Kerfluffle: You Gets No Bread With One Meatball

twitter logoThe world of Twitter has been a-twitter for the last few days over changes the microblogging service is making in the third-party access to Twitter APIs. In general, the rules restrict or outright block the access of many third parties. Reaction ranged from apocalyptic (Buzzfeed’s Matt Buchanan: “Twitter is in effect holding a pillow over Twitter apps as you know them, smothering the ecosystem over time.”) to the relatively sanguine (Tweetbot’s Paul Haddad: “Don’t panic.”)

Others have said more than enough about the merits, or lack of them, of the Twitter changes. I want to talk about their inevitability. I am an active Twitter user and find it hard to imagine how I got by without this relatively young service. But those of us who love and depend on Twitter have to realize that since we have never given it a penny, it doesn’t owe us anything. The same is true in spades for developers who have built their own apps and services on APIs that Twitter has provided without charge–and without any guarantees about their future availability.

There comes a time in the life of any startup when it has to think about its sustainability of itself as a business, and Twitter is reaching that point. Managing the tradition from unmonetized success to sustainable business is one of the toughest challenges for any startup that has grown as a free service and many fail. MySpace never pulled it off, and the jury is still out on Facebook.

Twitter has chosen that advertising is its primary route to monetization. Given that, it is going to have very little tolerance for third-party apps that fail to display Twitter’s ads. It also will become increasingly reluctant to letting third parties help themselves to information on Twitter users, hence the blocking of “find my friend” features on Instagram, Tumblr, and other services.

Perhaps Twitter had an alternative course available, but it would have required charging for what has been a free service for more than five years. A startup called is trying to build an ad-free, more open Twitter-like service by charging $50 a year. I wish them well, but I suspect they’ll have a very tough time achieving critical mass.

For better or worse, the internet has created a culture where we are used to getting valuable services without paying to them, at least in cash. But sooner or later, the piper must be paid. That’s when we learn that the service belongs to its investors and managers, not to us.




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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

4 thoughts on “The Twitter Kerfluffle: You Gets No Bread With One Meatball”

  1. Twitter can do whatever they want but if a popular store starts plastering ads everywhere or deletes half the merchandise, people may find somewhere else to shop.

  2. It’s their ball. They have just made room at the back of the bus. Let’s see what they do next when they have to “think” about the business. Take The Olympics as but one example. Google-search NBC/Twitter/Olympics and you get pages and pages on a banned journalist who Twitter ratted out to NBC. Suicide PR. Not one link on how the partnership worked, the glorious success. Just a PR disaster which nobody at Twitter knows how to fix. #nbcfail, a piss take on how rotten NBC’s coverage was, is STILL live and running on Twitter weeks after London ended. What are Twitter’s content/marketing/PR people doing?
    Gary Barlow reduced to tears after trolls post about his lost child. Twitter do nothing. India threaten to close Twitter…. they immediately purge anti government profiles. And on and on.
    When they let the mainly British users out footballer Ryan Giggs, in direct conflict with an injunction, Twitter’s response was “we are simply software providers”. Humph. If a newspaper had done it it would have been up before a Judge and a monster fine. Now Twitter want to be serious players. That will never happen if they fail to make the business into a serious commercial/media/content player with all the genius, values and brilliant brains to go to the next level. School yard bully kicking the little guys may play well infront of the VCs – but are they clever enough to raise their game?

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