Here’s Why Developers Are Scaring Twitter

The saga over Twitter’s new hardline stance against developers just got more interesting. While Twitter officials downplay the company’s crusade against new third-party Twitter clients, with claims 90 percent of active Twitter members use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis, fresh analysis suggests third-party Twitter apps account for much more traffic: 42 percent, according Sysomos, a social media analytics company.

The data illustrates why the company may be so anxious to clamp down on third-party apps: They command a very sizable portion of apps that can’t be monetized in the same way native apps can. And they explain why Twitter upped its battle with third-party clients last week when the company’s platform director, Ryan Sarver, bluntly told developers to not pursue new Twitter clients and told existing client makers they would be put on a short leash. The latest numbers from Sysomos show that changes to the Twitter terms of service and the company’s enforcement of the rules is having a much bigger impact than Sarver first suggested.

Sysomos arrived at its numbers by analyzing 25 million tweets on March 11. It found 58 percent of tweets were made from official Twitter clients. led the way with 35.4 percent, followed by a gaggle of mobile apps for iPhone (s aapl), BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android (s goog). Meanwhile, unofficial third-party clients made up 42 percent of tweets, led by Ubersocial, TweetDeck and Echofon, all apps owned by UberMedia. UberMedia, if you recall, recently had a handful of its apps suspended for policy violations stemming from privacy, monetization and trademark issues. From the numbers, you can see that Twitter’s biggest challenge comes from UberMedia, which my colleague Mathew predicted would result in a showdown as Twitter takes more control of its platform.

But the reality is, third-party clients are slowly waning in popularity. Sysomos found that in June 2009, unofficial Twitter apps made up 55 percent of all tweets, suggesting Twitter is getting more traffic over time. It has helped its cause by buying up clients like Tweetie.

Sysomos suggests the discrepancy between its numbers and Twitter’s comes from the fact that Twitter was apparently counting users who use Twitter apps on a monthly basis while Sysamos was counting the people who actually tweeted on March 11. It appears Twitter may be counting users who are not as active as users of other third-party apps. As we’ve pointed out, it makes sense for Twitter to take more control of its platform to make money, but it comes with some cost to good will with the developers who helped make Twitter a success. With the latest numbers, we can see that Twitter recognizes there’s a big opportunity in being the main presenter of tweets. But right now, it has to contend with developer partners who are handling a very sizable chunk of traffic. That might explain Twitter’s latest stance. If it really had 90 percent of all tweet traffic, it wouldn’t need to lay down the law. The market would have spoken already.