A Letter to Ryan Sarver

March 12, 201110 Comments

Dear Ryan,

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.

mmousephone

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.

Regards,

 

Shannon

Share

4 Responses to “A Letter to Ryan Sarver”

  1. [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]

  2. [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]

  3. [...] A Letter to Ryan Sarver | Shannon Whitley [...]

  4. unhinged says:

    Somebody at Twitter has been reading that “Apple controls the experience” and has thought “Wow! Look at how much money Apple are making! We have to do that too!”

    Simplistic approaches to complex problems rarely end well.

  5. [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. "I understand the thinking behind this strategy, 'We must control input to the system. We need to [...]

  6. [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]

  7. I know this may be akin to standing on a battlefield dressed as a bullseye, but I gotta challenge this one (in part).

    What exactly is wrong with Twitter choosing a new direction? Anyone (including me) who has built on Twitter to develop their own app _has_ to understand that they’re giving up a lot of control and accept that.

    To be clear, I am _not_ saying that Twitter’s move is the best move. I’m just not understanding the anger and surprise so many people are expressing.

    I made a more long-winded argument on my own blog here: http://epyllion.com/dagan/2011/and-why-cant-businesses-change-their-minds/, but I’ll of course continue to participate in any conversation here.

    Cheers!

  8. mikey says:

    Pathetic move by Twitter. This sort of dictatorial snubbing of it’s base developers (the people who made twitter what it is today!) will most likely lead to abandonment of Twitter and the rise of an alternative serivce. We’ve seen this happen time after time with other social sites, but these guys at Twitter gotta learn the hard way I suppose! Just take a look at Google API, there one minute and vanished the next, but developers continue to screen scrape google for SEO tools etc. Twitter has sealed it’s own fate, by saying thankyou and then goodbye to the loyal developers who fueled it’s growth. It now thinks it has the innovative capacity and developer resources to come up with it’s own new ideas to survive. Im sorry to say this, but no large company is innovative enough to keep up with smaller more agile upstarts.

    It’s like saying we raised your child and now you want him back, is this fair to the child or the adopted parents? Obviously the bean counters, angel investors and directors are controlling the company now and will be driving it into the ground due to (yet again!) their lack of social savvyness! Oh well, another case-study for the dotCom books!

    If Twitter was upfront with their developers and userbase from the beginning and at least mentioned that they plan to cutoff their API services and control application design (like Apple/iOS, now lagging Android BTW!) then developers may not feel as hurt. See what happens when a new innovator (eg Android) rains on the parade, Apple iOS is becoming history. Same thing will happen to Twitter eventually. Smart developers will either (1) screen scrape twitter or (2) don’t bother with Twitter in the first place

    Bye bye Twitter and thanks for the ride!

  9. My brother recommended I may like this website. He used to be entirely
    right. This submit actually made my day. You can not believe simply how a lot time I had spent for this info!
    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Twitter Tweet This

6 Trackbacks

  1. Twitter angers third-party developers with ‘no more timelines’ urging

    [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]

  2. Twitter angers third-party developers with ‘no more timelines’ urging | tracepk

    [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]

  3. Twitter Clamps Down on Client Apps

    [...] A Letter to Ryan Sarver | Shannon Whitley [...]

  4. Because the Cart Came before the Horse | Ryan Markel

    [...] [...]

  5. Twitter angers third-party developers with ‘no more timelines’ urging | Free downloads for all

    [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. "I understand the thinking behind this strategy, 'We must control input to the system. We need to [...]

  6. Twitter angers third-party developers with ‘no more timelines’ urging | Alternative downloads blog

    [...] Whitley, another developer, suggested it is time for Sarver to return to the company and tell it to reverse course. “I understand the thinking behind this strategy, ‘We must control input to the system. [...]