Several moves by Twitter in the past week have Twitter developers understandably nervous about their future. Many of them have labored for months, if not years, to create applications on top of the open Twitter ecosystem, and they’ve created a lot of value in doing so. They have “filled holes” in Twitter’s often bare bone service, creating Twitter-reading clients, Twitter application stores, Twitter filtering tools of all stripes, even Twitter analytics tools. The explosion of Twitter apps has been a boon to the service, driving rapid adoption and a strong allegiance in the developer community toward the young company.
Much of that has been called into question after the company indicated it would start building its own device-specific clients, as it did last week with Blackberry. It followed that news with the acquisition of a popular iPhone client. And, in a case of what appears to be independently poor timing, Twitter investor Fred Wilson penned a thoughtful but inflammatory post about the role of developers which led many to conclude that their efforts may well be subsumed by Twitter’s own internal efforts.
For background on all of this, read the NYT’s Sunday piece. You know the old school media world cares when the Times gives Twitter main billing in the Sunday Business section.
But in the main, I have to agree with Fred’s points. Like Facebook, or the Microsoft OS, or the iPhone, there will be “core” features that the platform will develop, and these features will continue to evolve over time. But for every core asset integrated into Twitter’s ecosystem, there are probably 1,000 opportunities that developers can address. Add in the Facebook, LinkedIn, Buzz, and other firehoses, and the possibilities start to go exponential.
The point is this: Two years ago, adding value to the Twitter ecosystem meant building a good reader, or a good aggregator. But the game changes over time, and if you don’t keep moving, you will become irrelevant. Value now is not value then. That’s the life of the startup world. If you run a startup that feeds off the oxygen of a growing platform, your job is to add value in a way that continues to redefine what’s possible on that platform. Keeping running ahead, and figure out a way to get paid along the way. That’s what FM does, to be honest – we’re a Twitter developer too. And what we do now can’t be what we did last year. It just doesn’t cut it anymore.
It should be very interesting to see how this all evolves at the Chirp conference this week – Twitter’s first ever developer confab. I’m “MC” for the first day, and I look forward to hearing from Ev, Biz, Dick, and various Twitter partners and developers. It should be quite a conversation.