TweetDeck shutdown gives a glimpse of Twitter's future

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The iPhone and Android versions of TweetDeck are going the way of the dodo. But rather than mourn the loss of the Twitter client, it’s worth considering what TweetDeck’s departure means for the future of Twitter itself.

On Monday, Twitter said it would pull the plug on various versions of TweetDeck, an application it bought less than two years ago. In addition, it will remove some features from the remaining versions of TweetDeck.

Twitter used a blog post on Posterous—notably, another service the social networking company is killing—to announce that it will discontinue TweetDeck AIR, TweetDeck for Android, and TweetDeck for iPhone. First the apps will get pulled from their respective stores; then they’ll stop working entirely, Twitter says.

TweetDeck devotees are encouraged to use TweetDeck on the Web, and Matthew Panzarino at The Next Web reports that the Mac and PC desktop TweetDeck apps will continue to be supported—for now, anyway.

So the crux of Twitter’s Monday announcement is that the only official Twitter mobile experience is the Twitter app itself, or the mobile Twitter website. Oh, and by the way—TweetDeck will no longer support any Facebook integrations, either. The app could previously import timelines for Facebook pages and accounts, and post to them as well.

If you’re a mobile TweetDeck user, you’re understandably bummed—you’ll need to find a new app. If you use TweetDeck on the Mac, PC, or Web, you still have reason to be concerned: The apps, they are a-changing, and the death of the mobile versions is a bit scary. But even if you’ve never cared for (or used!) TweetDeck, Monday’s announcements may present a reason to worry about Twitter’s future direction.

Whither TweetDeck

I don’t use TweetDeck for my personal tweeting. But I have used the app—even before Twitter owned it—for work-related social networking. TweetDeck offers features like scheduling posts; if you know you want to tweet links throughout the day, TweetDeck has long been a stable option for doing so. TweetDeck has at least at some points in its history been great for scheduling posts to Facebook too, though that feature has been broken for more than a year.

Many large brands that monitor Twitter use TweetDeck to do so, too. The app’s interface relies on numerous columns, each of which can be configured to show specific timelines or searches. So an employee monitoring Twitter for common phrases and terms used in tweets that may relate to it could rely on TweetDeck to handle that task fairly simply.

Perhaps Twitter is shuttering the mobile versions of TweetDeck since most corporate tweeters presumably handle their version of social work from computers, not smartphones. But some personal Twitter users like TweetDeck, too—and such personal users who like the TweetDeck mobile apps will surely be sorry to see them go. And it’s easy to understand why Twitter doesn’t care about those users’ preferences.

Sponsored by Twitter™

First, a quick history: Twitter used to focus on enabling users to share tiny bits of text with each other. It was social; some called it microblogging. There was no business plan.

Twitter unveiled an application programming interface (API), which made it simple for third-party developers to create apps for the service. Some of those developers made money; Twitter still didn’t.

Eventually, Twitter happened upon its first stab at making money, and it was ads. The company started offering sponsored tweets and sponsored accounts; advertisers could pay to make sure Twitter users saw their tweets. But only folks using Twitter’s website or its own apps would see those ads.

What happened next? Twitter restricted its API and put caps on how many users third-party apps could support. That left third-party developers scrambling to figure out their apps’ futures. Twitter’s new restrictions put in place stricter rules on how tweets must be displayed. And, as a result of its increasing heavy-handedness, Twitter spurred the creation of the still-nascent service, an alternative microblogging service that just recently added free accounts alongside its paid membership.

With that background in place, then, Twitter’s TweetDeck shuttering make sense. In the near term, it’s helpful for Twitter to focus on a single mobile app across all platforms, to ensure that sponsors—the ones paying Twitter’s bills—are displayed prominently and consistently to Twitter users like you and me. Sure, the company could have shoehorned sponsored tweets and accounts into TweetDeck, but it clearly felt little motivation to do so.

Folks like you and me use Twitter for free. So do most corporate users of the service; it’s a select few who pay for sponsored listings on the site.

Despite its affection for its corporate clients, Twitter could eventually close down the desktop versions of TweetDeck, too. Those apps are free. It’s good business for Twitter to charge its users with money, and business users—precisely the kind who today often turn to TweetDeck to manage their work—might just pay for a premium Twitter app or service to handle those tasks, should that be the best (or only) option available.

What’s next

Twitter continues to evolve. What was once an advertising-free service now relies on sponsors for revenue. Where Twitter once embraced third-party apps, it’s now working to minimize their presence. While Twitter was once a platform for public communication and interaction, it’s evolving into a broadcasting platform for celebrities to reach their fans.

And Twitter is changing in other ways, too. Surely it didn’t buy Posterous with the intention of shutting it down. Its clampdown on TweetDeck—not just canning some apps, but also removing Facebook connectivity from the versions that remain—may not have been the plan when Twitter first acquired TweetDeck.

Twitter’s users should be concerned. We now know that there’s no guarantee that even using official, sanctioned apps—like TweetDeck for iPhone or Android—will remain an option. We’ve known for a while now that Twitter’s customers are its advertisers, and that we’re the product. What we don’t know is how our enjoyment of the service will continue to be impacted by that reality … though it seems clear that more changes, quite possibly not for the better, are in the offing.

This story, "TweetDeck shutdown gives a glimpse of Twitter's future" was originally published by TechHive.

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