Fixing My Twitter

It’s no surprise that Twitter’s developers are messing around with the platform. Again. This time, it’s the implementation of changes announced back in May. Twitter is finally cutting off access to their API that third party clients have been using for the past few years. They’re forcing these clients to use their new API structure for things like notifications and removing support for streaming. This new API structure also has a hefty price tag. For 250 users it’s almost $3,000/month.

You can imagine the feedback that Twitter has gotten. Users of popular programs like Tweetbot and Twitterific were forced to degrade client functionality thanks to the implementation of these changes. Twitter power users have been voicing their opinions with the hashtag #BreakingMyTwitter. I’m among the people that are frustrated that Twitter is chasing the dollar instead of the users.

Breaking The Bank

Twitter is beholden to a harsh mistress. Wall Street doesn’t care about user interface or API accessibility. They care about money. They care are results and profit. And if you aren’t turning a profit you’re a loser that people will abandon. So Twitter has to make money somehow. And how is Twitter supposed to make money in today’s climate?

Users.

Users are the coin of Twitter’s realm. The more users they have active the more eyeballs they can get on their ads and sponsored tweets and hashtags. Twitter wants to court celebrities with huge followings that want to put sponsored tweets in their faces. Sadly for Twitter, those celebrities are moving to platforms like Instagram as Twitter becomes overrun with bots and loses the ability to have discourse about topics.

Twitter needs real users looking at ads and sponsored things to get customers to pay for them. They need to get people to the Twitter website where these things can be displayed. And that means choking off third party clients. But it’s not just a war on Tweetbot and Twitterific. They’ve already killed off their Mac client. They have left Tweetdeck in a state that’s barely usable, positioning it for power users. Yet, power users prefer other clients.

How can Twitter live in a world where no one wants to use their tools but can’t use the tools they like because access to the vital APIs that run them are choked off behind a paywall that no one wants to pay for? How can us poor users continue to use a service that sucks when used through the preferred web portal?

You probably heard my rant on the Gestalt IT Rundown this week. If not, here you go:

I was a little animated because I’m tired of getting screwed by developers that don’t use Twitter the way that I use it. I came up with a huge list of things I didn’t like. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about some things that I think Twitter should do to get their power users back on their side.

  1. Restore API Access to Third Party Clients – This is a no-brainer for Twitter. If you don’t want to maintain the old code, then give API access to these third party developers at the rates they used to have it. Don’t force the developers working hard to make your service usable to foot the bills that you think you should be getting. If you want people to continue to develop good features that you’ll “borrow” later, you need to give them access to your client.
  2. Enforce Ads on Third Party Clients – I hate this idea, but if it’s what it takes to restore functionality, so be it. Give API access to Tweetbot and Twitterific, but in order to qualify for a reduced rate they have to start displaying ads and promoted tweets from Twitter. It’s going to clog our timeline but it would also finance a usable client. Sometimes we have to put up with the noise to keep the signal.
  3. Let Users Customize Their Experience – If you’re going to drive me to the website, let me choose how I view my tweets. I don’t want to see what my followers liked on someone else’s timeline. I don’t want to see interesting tweets from people I don’t follow. I want to get a simple timeline with conversations that don’t expand until I click on them. I want to be able to scroll the way I want, not the way you want me to use your platform. Customizability is why power users use tools like third party clients. If you want to win those users back, you need to investigate letting power users use the web platform in the same way.
  4. Buy A Third Party Client and Don’t Kill Them Off – This one’s kind of hard for Twitter. Tweetie. The original Tweetdeck. There’s a graveyard of clients that Twitter has bought and caused to fail through inattention and inability to capitalize on their usability. I’m sure Loren Britcher is happy to know that his most popular app is now sitting on a scrap heap somewhere. Twitter needs to pick up a third party developer, let them develop their client in peace without interference internally at Twitter, and then not get fired for producing.
  5. Listen To Your Users, Not Your Investors – Let’s be honest. If you don’t have users on Twitter, you don’t have investors. Rather than chasing the dollars every quarter and trying to keep Wall Street happy, you should instead listen to the people that use your platform and implement the changes their asking for. Some are simple, like group DMs in third party clients. Or polls that are visible. Some are harder, like robust reporting mechanisms or the ability to remove accounts that are causing issues. But if Twitter keeps ignoring their user base in favor of their flighty investors they’re going to be sitting on a pile of nothing very soon.

Tom’s Take

I use Twitter all the time. It’s my job. It’s my hobby. It’s a place where I can talk to smart people and learn things. But it’s not easy to do that when the company that builds the platform tries as hard as possible to make it difficult for me to use it the way that I want. Instead of trying to shut down things I actively use and am happy with, perhaps Twitter can do some soul searching and find a way to appeal to the people that use the platform all the time. That’s the only way to fix this mess before you’re in the same boat as Orkut and MySpace.

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Tweebot For Mac – The Only Client You Need

TweetbotBirdI live my day on Twitter.  Whether it be learning new information, sharing information, or having great conversations I love the interactions that I get.  Part of getting the most out of Twitter comes from using a client that works to present you with the best experience.  Let me just get this out of the way: the Twitter web interface sucks.  It’s clunky and expends way too much real estate to provide a very minimal amount of useful information.  I’m constantly assaulted with who I should be following, what’s trending, and who is paying for their trends to float to the top of the list.  I prefer to digest my info a little bit differently.

You may recall that when I used Windows I was a big fan of the Janetter app.  When I transitioned to using a Mac full time, I started using Janetter at first to replicate my workflow.  I still kept my eyes open for a more streamlined client that I could keep on my desktop in the background.  While I loved the way the Mac client from Twitter (nee Tweetie) displayed things, I knew that development on that client had all but ended when Loren Britcher left Twitter.  Thankfully, Mark Jardine and Paul Haddad had been busy in the mad science lab to save me.

I downloaded Tweetbot for iOS back when I used an iPhone 3GS.  I loved the interface, but the program was a bit laggy on my venerable old phone.  When I moved to an iPhone 4S, I started using Tweetbot all the time.  This was around the time that Twitter decided to start screwing around with their mobile interface through things like the Dickbar.  Tweetbot on my phone was streamlined.  It allowed me to use gestures to see conversations.  I could see pictures inline and quickly tap links to pull up websites.  I could even send those links to mobile Safari or Instapaper as needed.  It fit my workflow needs perfectly.  It met them so well that I spent most of my time checking Twitter on my phone instead of my desktop.

The wiz kids at Tapbots figure out that a client for Mac was one of their most requested features.  So the got cooking on it.  They released an alpha for us to break and test the living daylights out of.  I loved the alpha so much I immediately deleted all other clients from my Mac and started using it no matter how many undocumented features I had to live through.  I used the alpha/beta clients all the way up to the release.  The same features I loved from the mobile client were there on my desktop.  It didn’t take up tons of room on a separate desktop.  I could use gestures to see conversations.  They even managed to add new features like multi-column support to mimic one of Tweetdeck’s most popular features.  When I found that just before NFD4, I absolutely fell in love.

TweetbotMacShot

Tweetbot is beautiful.  It is optimized for retina displays on the new MacBooks, so when you scale it up to HiDPI (4x resolution) it doesn’t look like pixelated garbage.  Tweets can be streamed to the client so you don’t constantly have to pull down to refresh your timeline.  I can pin the timeline to keep up with my tweeps at my leisure instead of the client’s discretion.  I even have support within iCloud to keep my mobile Tweetbot client synced to the position of my desktop client and vice versa.  If I read tweets on my phone, my timeline position is updated when I get back to my desk.  I think that almost every feature that I need from Twitter is represented here without the fluff of promoted tweets or ads that don’t apply to me.

That’s not to say that all this awesomeness doesn’t come without a bit of bad news.  If you hop on over to the App Store, you’re going to find out that Tweetbot for Mac costs $20 US. How can a simple Twitter client cost that much?!?  The key lies in the changes to Twitter’s API in version 1.1.  Twitter has decided that third party clients are the enemy.  All users should be using the website or official clients to view things.  Not coincidentally, the website and official clients also have promoted tweets and trends injected into your timeline.  Twitter wants to monitize their user base in the worst way.  I’m sure it’s because they see Mark Zuckerberg sitting on a pile of cash at Facebook and want the same thing for themselves.  They key to that is controlling the user experience.  If they can guarantee that users will see ads they can charge a hefty fee to advertisers.  The only way to ensure that users see those ads is via official channels.  That means that third party clients like Tweetbot can’t be allowed to exist.

In order to lock the clients out without looking like they are playing favorites, a couple of changes were put in place.  First, non-official clients are limited to a maximum of 100,000 user tokens.  Once you hit your limit, you have to go back to Twitter and ask for more.  However, if Twitter determines that your client “replicates official features and offers no unique features,” you get the door slammed in your face and no more user tokens.  It’s already happened to one client.  If you don’t want to hit your limit too quickly, the only option is to make the price in the store much higher than the “casual” user is willing to pay.  As Greg Ferro (@etherealmind) likes to say, Tweetbot is “reassuringly expensive.”


Tom’s Take

I have a ton of apps on my phone and my MacBook that I’ve used once or twice. I paid the $.99 or $1.99 to test them out and found that they don’t meet my needs.  When Tweetbot was finally released, I didn’t hesitate to buy it even though it was $20.  As much as I use Twitter, I can easily justify the cost to myself.  I need a client that doesn’t get in my way. I want flexibility.  I don’t want the extra crap that Twitter is trying to force down my throat.  I want to use Twitter.  I don’t want Twitter to use me.  That’s what I get from Tweetbot.  I don’t need the metrics from Hootsuite.  I just want to read and respond to conversations and save articles for later.  Thanks to Twitter’s meddling, a lot of people have been looking for a replacement for the old Tweetdeck Air client that is getting sunsetted on May 7.  I can honestly say without reservation that Tweetbot for Mac is the replacement you’re looking for.

Review Disclaimer

I am a paying user of Tweetbot for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.  These programs were purchased by me.  This review was written without any prior contact with Tapbots.  They did not solicit any of the content or ask for any consideration in the writing of this article.  The conclusions and analysis herein are mine and mine alone.