Twitter to Client Developers: We’ll Take it From Here

After increasing speculation about Twitter’s growing hostility toward Twitter client developers, the micro-messaging service today removed all doubt about what kind of relationship it wants with developers. In a blunt message on its developer forum, platform lead Ryan Sarver basically said new Twitter apps are not welcome and existing ones are going to be on a very tight leash.

The latest pronouncement about Twitter’s stance makes explicit that Twitter is not interested in developers working on rival client apps. While existing apps are OK for now, new apps need not apply, said Sarver:

Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter.  More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.  The answer is no.

Instead new developers should consider different opportunities such as building publisher tools, curation applications, real-time data analysis, social CRM services for enterprise clients and the kind of integration that Foursquare and Instagram have included in their apps.

For those developers like Ubermedia who continue to put out Twitter clients, Sarver said they will be held to a very high standard as laid out in an updated terms of service agreement. Ubermedia last month had several of its apps including UberTwitter and Twidroyd temporarily shut down for policy violations that stemmed from privacy, monetization and trademark issues. The episode illustrated the hard line Twitter intends to take with client developers. And now with its more explicit roadmap for developers, Twitter is underscoring the risk associated with building a business atop another company’s platform.

So why is Twitter doing this, basically discouraging a community of developers that helped propel it to success? Sarver said the multitude of apps can sow confusion with consumers when the user experiences and functionality differ between them and the official Twitter application and website. He said this fragmentation and inconsistency, along with potential for privacy and other policy violations by developers, requires Twitter to push for a more uniform experience and discourage new Twitter apps.

This is, of course, Twitter’s right. They own the platform. And they have increasingly shown they want to be the primary way people consume and interact with tweets. This is important as the company looks to squeeze more money out of its burgeoning network and figure out its business model. The company already has bought up clients like Tweetie, and now its apps and website are the top five ways people access the service, said Sarver. He said 90 percent of active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis. Still, Twitter hosts an ecosystem of some 750,000 apps, which will it continue to support.

Now whether developers will continue to turn to Twitter is another question. RSS pioneer Dave Winer said the new roadmap for developers underscores the need for developers to look at building off the Internet instead of platforms in which the owner is too active. “The Internet remains the best place to develop because it is the Platform With No Platform Vendor. Every generation of developers learns this for themselves.”

For now, it looks like Twitter is trying to push developers into helping business customers figure out how to leverage the service. But developers who choose that route have also got to wonder how long before Twitter wants to go after that business too. By being so active and now throwing its weight around, it’s hard for developers to know how far Twitter ambitions go and how long before they too are looked at as unwelcome competition.