Why Twitter Shouldn’t Pull the Plug on TweetDeck

There are more rumors making the rounds about Twitter acquiring the TweetDeck client, with TechCrunch and Reuters both saying they have confirmed a deal that is expected to be announced within days, a followup to an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal that the two were in talks. One of the big question marks, should such a deal actually occur, is whether Twitter will keep TweetDeck alive or euthanize it — but if it does decide to kill the app, the company could arguably do further damage to the already tense relationship it has with third-party developers.

One of the obvious motives for acquiring TweetDeck, as we’ve written before, is to keep it out of the hands of UberMedia — the Bill Gross startup that has had a contentious relationship with Twitter since it was first created last year, in part because the company made it clear that it wanted to set up a competing advertising model and possibly a complete alternative network to Twitter. UberMedia was also said to be in talks with TweetDeck, but those expired without any resolution. Preventing Gross from acquiring the company, and bringing those users into the Twitter family, could justify the $50 million that Twitter is reportedly offering.

One of the arguments for killing TweetDeck is that since Twitter just wants to keep it away from UberMedia, then shutting it down is a logical next step, since it isn’t really a strategic acquisition. Although the app is favored by a number of power users, some have argued that Twitter is really focused on its broad user base — most of whom either use the Twitter website or mobile apps — and therefore it doesn’t have any interest in TweetDeck.

While both of those things may be true, I think Twitter would be wrong to kill TweetDeck, for a number of reasons. One is pretty straightforward: if an app is used by your most hard-core power customers, including a bunch of large corporations and media outlets. Why risk irritating those users? It doesn’t make any sense. It would cost Twitter very little to simply keep TweetDeck running for those that want to use it, and try to migrate them to other clients over time if it decides to do that. And spending $50 million just to kill something seems like a pretty dumb use of the money Twitter has raised from VCs, especially for a company that isn’t even close to being profitable.

Then there’s the impact on Twitter’s relationship with third-party developers and its “ecosystem,” which I took a look at for a recent GigaOM Pro report (subscription required). At the moment, the information network is currently caught between its past — in which it encouraged anyone and everyone to develop apps using its API, with very few restrictions on what they could do — and its future, which involves controlling its network and access to that network, for business reasons. To put it bluntly, Twitter has to come up with a business that justifies the billions of dollars it is theoretically worth on the private market after raising $200 million in venture capital.

The problem is that many of the moves it has made — shutting down UberMedia’s apps, tightening its restrictions on the API, telling people not to bother making new clients, and so on — have not just ruffled feathers in the developer community but made some seriously question their relationship with the company. That isn’t something to be taken lightly. And while buying TweetDeck might look like a payoff for developer Iain Dodsworth and his team, shutting it down will make it look like Twitter is willing to bulldoze whatever it wants in order to maintain its control over the ecosystem.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Umberto Rotundo