Twitter vs. Developers: What's the Damage?

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When Twitter purchased Atebits, maker of the Tweetie app, it slapped the face of loads of third-party developers who had helped rocket Twitter to a raging success. More than 70,000 applications have been created to allow users to tweet on the go, geotag, shorten URLs, post pictures and more, and now that Twitter has made its "official" Twitter for iPhone app -- as well as one for RIM's BlackBerry -- the microblogging service may be biting the hand that fed it and rotting relations with developers.

In an e-mail snagged by The San Francisco Chronicle, Twitter Platform Team leader Ryan Sarver attempts to soothe the shattered nerves of developers. Sarver wrote that the proliferation of third-party Twitter apps "was causing massive confusion among user's [sic] who had an iPhone and were looking to use Twitter for the first time." In order to focus on the Twitter "ecosystem as a whole," the company sought to streamline app choices. Sarver also admitted that calling the BlackBerry app "official" was a poor choice of words, and that developers "won't see that language used with Twitter clients in the future."

A quick read between the lines of Sarver's diplomatic e-mail hints that Twitter feels it has done no wrong. Sentences after Sarver writes that Twitter users have "needs that we can never meet on our own and we all need to work together to provide what is best for the users," he states on behalf of the company that it will be "consistent in always focusing on what's best for the user and the ecosystem as a whole and we will be sincere and honest in our communication with you." Sounds to me like Twitter has a firm grip on what its users need for an engrossing experience and if it lands upon a new channel for improvement, third-party developers may be pushed aside.

A few frustrated and angry comments followed. One developer said that "the argument about 'confusion in the Apple app store' gives off a distinct spinning sound. Very loud, in fact. It may be one of the reasons for acquiring Tweetie, but to cite it as the prim

ary and only reason immediately sets of all flavors of BS alarms." Another suggested that instead of pushing developers out of the picture with an "official" app, Twitter could have posted a list of recommended Twitter clients in the App Store. Other developers were grateful for Twitter's open dialogue.

The fallout from Twitter's decision to smile and inch away from third-party developers has yet to be seen, but it could result in tarnished relations and bitterness. On the other hand, if Sarver's language is to be believed, this may inspire developers to race back to the drawing board and create apps to supersede "official" Twitter releases -- an excellent opportunity for developers to heat up competition and further revolutionize the service.

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