Biz Stone has announced he is stepping away from the day-to-day operations at Twitter. From his own blog:
“My work on Twitter has spanned more than half a decade and I will continue to work with the company for many years to come. During this time—especially lately, it has come to my attention that the Twitter crew and its leadership team have grown incredibly productive. I've decided that the most effective use of my time is to get out of the way until I'm called upon to be of some specific use.”
Now, with Biz and Ev Williams and solidly out of the day-to-day picture, it seems the end of Twitter as we know it has just been accelerated.
So when did the end begin? Other than Biz and Ev leaving the day-to-day operations, what are the other possible signs that Twitter is heading down the wrong path, the one that may end Twitter as we know it?
Well, there was the purchase of Tweetdeck and the big push towards the centralized Twitter experience. Twitter also has been circling the corporate wagons and playing a little bit of bully on the block, starting first with the attack against developer’s and third party applications over the past year.
While it's possible all these are unrelated instances in a series of unrelated events, where there is smoke there is usually fire.
Not long before Stone's big announcement, Twitter acquired Tweetdeck for a lot of money – more than it is probably worth ($40 million).
Now, there can only be a few reasons Twitter would have purchased Tweetdeck, especially for more than it was worth. The first would be to incorporate the tremendous functionality of Tweetdeck into Twitter. This would be fantastic news and a great step forward for Twitter. However, if Twitter’s history with third party applications is any indicator, this is least likely.
So what is the most likely end for Tweetdeck? Assimilation? App death? Time can only tell. Whatever it is, if past behavior is the best predictor of future actions, then Tweetdeck is likely to face an uncertain and less viable future.
This year, Twitter has decided to close down access to certain API data and strictly enforce TOS policies for third party applications. Also of note was Twitter developer Ryan Sarver’s ominous warning to developer’s not to develop new applications outside of those sanctioned by Twitter and the purchase of one of the most commonly used Twitter applications.
Twitter: Flying Ahead or Falling Behind?
Once revolutionary, ready to rock the world, is Twitter going the way of milk toast and khaki pants on its way to a slow death of mediocrity – a middle of the road marketing tool and online bulletin board? Sadly, yes. Get your khakis on and bring on the milk and cookies. Twitter is homogenizing, but unlike with milk, homogenization may just be what spoils this drink.
Twitter executives and executive board are probably seeing dollar signs as they force out competition, keep out developers, and narrow in on a more homogenous and harmonized tweety bird.
To monetize, Twitter has told us, it must control. And in order to control, it must then seek to end all those who would take away from its centralized Twitter brand experience.
Utilizing "traditional business models" and marketing techniques isn't a negative to a company that wants to grow and prosper in these hard economic times, but what if Twitter doesn't need antiquated marketing models for the new world of social media tools?
What if these 20th century business ideologies no longer work in our new social economy? What happens to Twitter then? Maybe, just maybe, Twitter loses well…everything that made it innovative. Everything that made it Twitter.
March to Conformity
Twitter’s march down a road of uniformity in hopes of the golden egg, sadly doesn't seem to realize the path to conformity might be the one that takes away that which makes Twitter special, unique, and in the end truly valuable – long term. Because in our world isn’t it the unique that we value?
We aren't seeing the birth of a new Twitter, but the beginning of its timely demise. At least the demise of the Twitter that sparks revolutions, the Twitter that was the first of the truly innovative social media tools.
While rumors had been floating around for a while about changes to Twitter’s relationship with third party developers, Twitter showed a real desire to seek change around March when Twitter threw the first definitive stone. Twitter’s lead developer Ryan Sarver stated in a Google post to the these developers:
“Twitter is a network, and its network effects are driven by users seeing and contributing to the network’s conversations. We need to ensure users can interact with Twitter the same way everywhere.”
What's wrong with this? After all, companies do this all the time? Why is it bad for a company to want users to communicate with the company using limited access points? To homogenize the user experience? Create fewer devices and limit the possible user experiences?
Well if this was any other company, maybe nothing, but Twitter didn't develop in a single ecosystem. Twitter developed in multiclient systems with multiclient experiences with no obstacles to entry. These developers after all, helped create Twitter.
What Twitter Meant to Users
In the early days, Twitter.com could not or would not develop certain functionalities, whether it was because of staffing shortages (most likely) or desire. So outside developers created applications with certain simple functionality that helped Twitter make sense.
The open API gave Twitter what no one else had – no barriers to entry. Anyone could make Twitter what Twitter was not.
Need a retweet function? A direct message? Hashtags? If a function was needed, any developer could create it. Pretty cool, right? Not like Twitter was paying these companies to develop for them.
Twitter could grow, develop, become the Twitter we know all without doing anything more than making their API available.
Twitter is more accessible, easier to consume, and more readily available than any other media out there. Twitter knew about Osama bin Laden’s death before the news could even get a story out.
Twitter has changed the news to real-time live and living events we experience through the eyes and words of those living it as they live it. Twitter has changed us, changed our present and will change how others view the history of our now. No longer will they have to interpret how people must have felt, they will have the words forever enshrined in the halls of the Library of Congress.
But Twitter's Sarver posted about the need for “a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way.”
Move toward a less fragmented world? Why? Because that's how it's usually done, never diverting from the tried and true and a need to control?
Twitter helped create revolutions – because people could text, speak, dial-up, use Twitter.com, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Echofon, Seesmic and other applications and websites.
Twitter may not have caused a revolution, but the ability to communicate via any device including by speaking into a telephone to anyone in the world even major news outlets, surely played its role in lighting the way. But that isn't where the revolution begins or ends. It is just the evidence of what makes Twitter revolutionary.
What's a Twitter To Do?
Please know I do understand there may be a myriad of business reasons that all stand sound when you are discussing the future of any company. I am not against a brand wanting to bring about some consistency to its user experience, but what if that consistency destroys your product experience?
Is homogenizing the Twitter experience really a better user experience overall? No. It's just holding on to old paradigms of what used to work.
So my advice to Twitter is maybe instead of circling the wagons and closing the walls, try to be who you can be and see if the money will come.
The Future? Or Things That Make You Go Hmmm…
In my future, Twitter realizes the beauty of its fragmented model, looks outside the box and bravely rejects the antiquated business model that argues for homogenization, uniformity, and conformity.
Twitter does this by throwing all its people in a room, where it stays there listening to each and every employee until the “C” answer can be found (the one you look for when A and B really don’t work). The answer that embraces the open API, third party, open system that it started as when Biz and Ev were at the helm.
The answer they comes to makes them money and supports the mission statement of companies like The Obvious Corporation, Ev and Biz’s new company. Read the mission statement, which sounds suspiciously like “OG” Twitter to me:
“The Obvious Corporation makes systems that help people work together to improve the world. The proliferation of technology can seem superfluous, but with the right approach, technology can benefit individuals, organizations, and society. We are relaunching the company that originally incubated Twitter with a high level of commitment to making a difference and developing products that matter.
"In more than a decade of developing large scale systems on the Internet, we’ve never been more excited than right now. The possibility to reach and connect expansive numbers of people fundamentally changes the nature of what’s possible when it comes to building businesses on the Internet. Also, there’s room for innovation in how businesses measure success and more meaningful definitions of ambition.”
Good Luck, Twitter
With all sincerity, good luck, Twitter. May you be all that your infancy told us you could be. May they let you run around barefoot in the grass and realize that to control and contain will certainly be the death of you as anything innovative and truly important, your multiclient ecosystem whittled to one throttled access point.
I still hold out hope as you can be so much more than a way to make some shareholders and three letter executives money. Twitter has changed the world. May you continue to do so and may there be “room for innovation in how businesses measure success and more meaningful definitions of ambition.”