Twitter needs to get their shit together

August 17, 2012

Twitter has been increasingly aggressive in their communications about what they will allow people to do with their API and what developers should do. It all started in March 2011, and was followed up in June of this year with further limitations and advice using such demeaning terms as "Developer Rules of the Road" (here's the lay of the land, kid...)

Yet, we still continue to use Twitter. Today came what I suppose marks the end of Twitter as we know it with the announcement of version 1.1 of the Twitter API. Until today, I think we've all been hoping that the previous communication was just the Twitter people dipping their toes in the water and that we'd managed to make enough noise about it for them to see how terrible a decision this move is. But, version 1.1 turns many of the previously implied changes into reality. Even worse, the communication about it has if anything become more snarky and demeaning. Michael Sippey sounds like a hurt teenager in his halfhearted way of telling people to quit building "traditional" Twitter clients (of course it's based on an epicly bullshitty businessy chart subdivded into four quadrants):

That upper-right quadrant also includes, of course, "traditional" Twitter clients like Tweetbot and Echofon. Nearly eighteen months ago, we gave developers guidance that they should not build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience." And to reiterate what I wrote in my last post, that guidance continues to apply today.

The thing is, these traditional clients actually don't mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience — they improve it vastly. Clients like Tweetbot provide such a different and enhanced experience, that having to actually visit the Twitter web client makes me want to fumble with poison. Twitter's "mainstream consumer client experience" is cluttered, unstructured and inconsistent. If you, for one moment figure out where something is actually to be found in one of these clients, you can be damned sure it's moved the next time you need it, and that you definitely won't find it in the same place in a "mainstream client" for a different platform or device. Add on top of that the completely stalled development of these clients on some platforms, and I'd really like mr. Sippey to explain just exactly how Tweetbot is mimicing anything but the very basic premise of Twitter rather than the "client experience."

But, as much as the childish communication and pointless attacks on many users' primary consumption experience annoy me (it's just the tip of the fucking iceberg, if you read the updated guidelines), what actually scares me is that Twitter seems to continue to think that the direction they've now steered their huge-ass whale into is the right one. In my eyes, Twitter has to quite an extent grown because of its API. Developing good, solid and well designed applications and peripheral services for Twitter was considered cool, which in turn widened the selection and increased the quality of the tools offered for the mainstream public to join the rest of us in this low-tech 140 character world. Having the rest of the world join us meant that we could start making money off of providing unique and improved experiences and all was well and dandy. Now though, with the ability to customise your own user experience being limited to basically nothing, developers are very likely to start searching for other more suitable alternatives like App.net.

Losing developers as users of course doesn't ruin Twitter, or at least not in the short run. But, when developers are no longer using something themselves, they don't care as intensely about the experience that products deliver when working with Twitter, and the mainstream user experience in most if not all other verticals will suffer too. It's what happened to Facebook applications. I have not met a developer in the last three years who had anything to say about Facebook than that it's "a pain in the ass you deal with every now and then when your integration breaks." I'm pretty damned sure that Twitter is headed for the same destiny, if they don't get their shit together and figure out a way to make money without pissing off their entire developer community.

But, if not, I guess we can all start looking forward to the mandatory, overly bloated tweet view, that's going to be a real fucking joy for those of us who like condensed information and think that a 140 character limit hints at that, until Justin Bieber moves to App.net:

Bloated tweet view - copyright Twitter