Category Archives: API

Appropriating Your Cake and Eating It Too

I was very disappointed this evening to find that, with their new API rules, Twitter is trying to eat their cake and still have it too. To put it simply, ask yourself this: would Twitter be what it is today if these policies had existed from the start?

Meetup had its own sink-or-swim moment when it began charging for Meetup groups. Changes like these affect the way the product is received by a network; they don’t change they way the product can be used, but they change the way the product is used.

This happens because network-driven products are eventually appropriated by the network. If you run a network-driven product, you want this. It means your users are teaching you how to use your product, not the other way around. You may even change your company’s vision in response. This is a Good Thing.

The flip side of appropriation is that you no longer own your product. You may think you do. Your server costs may disagree. But you’re mistaken if you think that public control of your product starts with your IPO.

Taking bold moves and yanking your product out from under your users’ feet works for a while. Sometimes it may be the right decision. But Twitter should have realized that the last time they were in this position was in 2008, by my estimate.

From the start, Twitter has grown because it is quasi-universal. The 140 character limit was chosen for compatibility with text-messaging. To say that the third-party clients have been a boost to Twitter’s traffic would be a disservice; Twitter’s own official clients on OS X and iOS were originally third-party creations.

Very early on, Twitter had two choices:

1. Double down on their API, brand themselves as a  platform, and monetize accordingly (data, advertising, or usage-based pricing [which is different from applying for permission!])

2. Become a closed network, with centralized tools for interacting with the network, and monetize off of a walled garden.

Now, the choice is still there – but it’s no longer Twitter-the-company who will be deciding. And it seems Twitter-the-network has a very different vision in mind.