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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