A Letter to Ryan Sarver
I’d like to show my support for you and your team during this difficult time. I know it couldn’t have been easy typing the words to your message, consistency and ecosystem opportunities, and I can’t even imagine trying to justify and define this for the developer community. I feel for you, my friend.
Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience on phones, computers, and
other devices by which millions of people access Twitter content (tweets, trends, profiles, etc.), and send tweets.
I know you can’t believe these words, and I’m sure the decision ran downhill from the top of your organization. There’s probably a lot of headshaking and headscratching at the engineering meetings. If I worked for Twitter, I’d certainly be wondering what my bosses were thinking with this new policy. After all, one of the reasons Twitter enjoys so much popularity is its history of external innovation. The good folks at Twitter always recognized that they can’t possibly imagine all of the uses for the platform, and I always thought this was one of the greatest strengths of your company.
So, I’m going to challenge you and every employee at Twitter to speak up in your meetings. I know it can be difficult to go against executive mandates, but it’s important and necessary to do so right now.
I understand the thinking behind this strategy, “We must control input to the system. We need to have X in place to generate revenue using Y.” I don’t have to tell you how wrong this thinking is, but somehow it’s moved beyond a bean counter’s dream into reality. Somehow, everyone in the boardroom forgot about Twitter’s history of amazing innovation due to having an open API. They forgot that Twitter is a beautiful messaging platform with unlimited potential. Twitter has unlimited potential specifically because innovation on top of the API has been largely unlimited, until now. You know this, and I apologize for preaching to you, but darn it, you guys have to step up. You have to go back to the boardroom and tell them, “You’re wrong. There are plenty of ways to make a ton of cash and continue to grow Twitter, but controlling all of the clients on every platform isn’t necessary and will actually cripple our system’s long-term growth.”
You’re wrong. There are plenty of ways to make a ton of cash and continue to grow Twitter, but controlling all of the clients on every platform isn’t necessary and will actually cripple our system’s long-term growth.
Do you remember the old rotary phones that you could rent from AT&T? There was a time when every consumer interface into the telephone system was consistent, perfectly functional, and completely lacking in originality. I always remember when things changed. I remember going to the store and seeing a Mickey Mouse phone. I thought to myself, “Holy Smokes! I could get a frickin’ telephone that looks like Mickey Mouse.” The varied devices that work over our phone lines today (modems, fax machines, cell phones) are not the result of a monolithic development system.
You also must be feeling a bit “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” You tried to come out to the developers and say, “Hey, we’re developing Twitter clients, so Fair Warning if you want to compete with us.” But then you guys went a step further and said, “You can’t compete with us and we’re changing the TOS to prevent it.” Wow, again, I know you can’t be behind that. You know Twitter makes some great clients, but then so do others. Competition is healthy; that’s the best thing for the “ecosystem.” If you want to be clear to developers that you’re focused on clients, that’s great, but to limit what other developers create and contribute, that’s nuts.
And I don’t really understand the need to control every client. If you already have 90% of the users, how can the experience be confusing or inconsistent? Additionally, you might want to recheck those numbers; how many studies have shown that the bulk of Twitter use comes from roughly 10% of the userbase?
When you talk about “user confusion,” I wonder who’s being studied. We have to face it, some people will never get Twitter, and that’s okay. Consistent clients aren’t going to make it easier for those people. Also, if you’ve stymied creativity, you may have missed your opportunity to reach those confused people through a third-party client that meets a specific need for them.
I won’t even touch the alternate monetization ideas. There have been enough posts to shine a blinding light for Twitter in that direction. There are so many opportunities for you that don’t involve controlling Twitter clients. I just can’t see how it’s worth confusing developers and creating ill will. Make money, and make lots of it, but don’t damage the support you’ve spent years building.
So, just to sum things up: you guys are way off track. I don’t even really think you should be in the Twitter client business, but since you are, just make your roadmap clear and let developers create what they will. The danger to the ecosystem will come from control freaks who strangle Twitter’s potential. The uses of Twitter that are unimagined today will generate huge opportunities for you tomorrow. Cut off the creative arm of your product, and you’ll never know what you missed.
data-text=”A Letter to Ryan Sarver (Shannon Whitley)”