There’s been a lot of negative hoopla surrounding Twitter in recent weeks. I have a slightly different point of view from the Twitter-haters, which isn’t surprising considering that my startup Branch relies primarily on Twitter for authentication and distribution.
The API Crackdown
The company blog post which sparked the initial outcry over Twitter’s API was far from the “crackdown” that it was made out to be. Twitter announced it would begin clamping down on “client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.”
But is that really such a big deal? Everybody knows that building a business that relies solely on a third party API is dangerous terrain (which is why Twitter Auth is just one option for signing up for Branch). Plus, there are 140 million people sharing their perspectives of the World around them, in real-time. Sleeker, niftier user interfaces are great but there’s so much more that developers could (and should) do with that data.
In our experience, the Twitter Platform has been great. The company’s API allows developers to go into their Direct Messaging system and read User Streams. The former means our users can send invitations to their branches, without us having to build a proprietary messaging infrastructure. The latter is enabling our neighbors at betaworks, Digg/News.me, to create a next-generation news product. Building on top of Twitter has been great; I’m not quite sure what everybody is complaining about.
An Open, Real-Time Protocol
Second, the road that critics wish Twitter had gone down isn’t paved with gold, or concrete. “An open, real-time protocol” sounds great, in theory, but do you know what else is an open protocol? Email. And we all know how terrible, and profitable, email is.
In fact, email is terrible precisely because it is open and decentralized. Since nobody owns or controls it, there is zero innovation. We’ve been stuck with carbon copies and subject lines for 30 years, and I still can’t send files more than 25 MB, not to mention the lack of a consistent user experience, something that Steve Jobs taught us the importance of.
“The Advertising-Supported Monoculture”
Finally, in his proposal for App.net, Dalton Caldwell laments “the disappointment of Web 2.0,” which I just can’t relate to. Web 2.0 has been pretty frickin’ awesome, in my book. Just this morning, I woke up to eyewitness accounts from the uprising in Syria, a picture that Lebron James took at the Olympics’ Opening Ceremonies, and an update from my friend who is trekking in the wilderness of the Norwegian Fjords, all within four inches of iPhone screen, just below a little blue bird. And it cost me nothing! Except a slight swipe of the thumb to make Samsung Mobile disappear. I’ll take it, especially since Twitter is a communications network. The service is valuable because it is affordable (and accessible) to hundreds of millions of people.
In all fairness, I very much admire Dalton’s audacity and core values, but we need to pick our battles. The events on 9/11 inspired my old boss, Scott Heiferman, to build a service that brings neighbors and communities together. Do we really want a poorly targeted K-Mart ad to be our rallying cry?
I guess, I don’t really understand. As Louis CK would say, “Everything’s amazing right now and nobody’s happy.”