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Twitter Has the "Now Syndrome" (danshipper.com)
58 points by dshipper on Aug 17, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments

"And so in their effort to make billions now, Twitter is slashing and burning the same 3rd party developers that helped to make it the behemoth it is today."

Third-party Twitter clients (that is, replacements for Twitter's site and official apps) had little impact on Twitter's success. It's a story that sounds good, but I don't see any evidence for it. Those are the only developers that are materially hurt by Twitter's new policies.

"They spend the 6 months they could have used learning to code, trying to find a cofounder instead."

Someone who thinks they might want to start a software business in the future should definitely learn how to program. Someone who's starting a software business right now should pay someone else in dollars or equity to get it done. It takes more than six months to become a competent programmer, let alone become familiar with the tools and practices needed to build a modern web application or mobile app. This just isn't very good advice at all.

While it definitely would take a novice programmer much longer than 6 months to learn to build a production caliber web app, it's plenty of time to make a functioning prototype and get some perspective on the craft. This can focus and clarify the concept, get you taken more seriously, and make you about 1000% more effective at hiring and managing developers down the line.

Unless you have piles of money or friends in high places, learning some programming is a great place to start if you want to build a tech startup and aren't already a developer. It isn't the be-all end-all, but I'd definitely agree that spending 6 months educating yourself and getting something created, even if it's sloppy, is better use of time than cruising around meetups and networking events trying to find someone to implement your idea for you. Ditto for hiring contractors who you can afford and won't leave you with a lemon when you have no basis for judging whether someone knows wtf they're talking about.

If you don't have money and you don't know how to program, don't quit your day job.

I agree... People started developing Twitter clients BECAUSE of its popularity. Why hasn't as many people developed a client for MySpace, or Friendster, or Diaspora instead?

Twitter is just being stupid. They could easily offer a "pro" version of twitter that would give end-users verified accounts, added stats, better photos, wide open use of the API for 3rd party apps, etc.

Some calculations... - 500 million accounts. - 1% conversion (they could 2% or higher) - 5 million conversions - $50/year Wooo hoo. $250 million. Ok, not a billion but not a bad start, all without burning developers or free users.

Charge businesses for business level accounts and analytics and you could get another $250M.

Twitter's problem isn't just a "Now" problem it's a management team that's following Facebook on their path to ad failure.

Twitter dies if they lose 98% of their users. So many people would leave that you'd never be able to keep even 1%.

Watching Twitter and app.net over the next couple of years should be fascinating. Twitter can't start charging, but app.net is starting there. If they get 1% of Twitter's population, they are a huge success. And Twitter just gifted them a lot of potential developers.

Twitter can't start charging

They could easily start charging for additional services as the comment above suggessted - if they make it a 'Pro' plan and leave normal accounts alone, there's no incentive at all for people to leave, and yet they make money from their most active/interested users. There are plenty of extras they could offer on top of the basic service for a charge.

That goes double for business accounts - I'm sure most businesses would pay some small subscription for verification, syndication, the chance to advertise (in clearly separated areas) and other features now it has critical mass.

That's a much better plan than polluting all of the users' streams with advertising they don't want a la FaceBook, which will lead to a mass exodus. Adding advertising to the users' streams is absolutely the worst thing Twitter can do, and yet it seems they're actively working towards that with their recent changes.

I think that depends a lot on how it's marketed. If it's touted as something that regular users ought to have access to as well, it might tick off a lot of people, but it doesn't have to be like that.

Although I wouldn't be surprised if the knuckleheads at Twitter botched it.

I agree. Think of the way Reddit Gold works. It doesn't really take anything away from the Reddit experience, but it does give folks some additional value that those that feel like paying for it, do. If Twitter just adds features for the premium side, and doesn't strip current features from free users, it should be easy to make that transition.

I don't see what would drive away customers. If paying for your twitter account was optional, why would free users stop using the service?

Twitter and Facebook could learn a lot from the Free-to-Play video game market. Service is free, being "special" costs money.

And if they get 1% of twitter's population, it may well be a MUCH higher percentage of the subset of twitter's population that's willing to pay for something.

Interesting take, although I think that there's more at play here. I agree that they could start charging for the API and add premium accounts, but all of those major changes runs a big risk of irrevocably altering their service. Whether that's for the better or worse is up for debate.

I'm very curious to see where it goes from here, but was mostly intrigued by the parallel I see to small startups. Thanks for the comment :)

Assuming this "pro" account would be ad-free, that would devalue their ad business. BMW isn't going to pay for promoted tweets if their target demographic won't see them. So you're left with junk food ads, which are fine, but not nearly as profitable.

> Charge businesses for business level accounts and analytics and you could get another $250M.


Charge individuals for personal analytics and... ???


After reading the Innovator's Dilemma, you start seeing this effect everywhere and it applies equally in people's careers. I think it's probably the same principle as the law of diminishing return - you're getting less and less out of your current path but it's still more than some other perceived endeavor.

Perhaps there is some disruptive thing Twitter could do that will eventually disrupt their current advertising model and be a true billion dollar business. It's possible they don't see it (or less likely, there is NO path for them to get where they need to be) and so they're letting it be known that they're planning on extracting increasing rents from their current income streams.

Interesting, I've never read that book. But that's a nice take: your feedback loop isn't functional enough to notice diminishing returns. Putting it on my list.

Prepare to have your mind blown! :)

Innovator's Solution is probably the better book (same ideas expressed, but more in-depth thinking on how to fix it inside your company by Christensen).

It's a must-read by startups because it puts you in the right mind-set of why your crappy little MVP can possibly disrupt powerful incumbents.

Thanks for your article - I've been enjoying your posts!

Good books, but can't they mostly just be summed up in a page or two?



Thanks, really glad to hear it :)

I'm not sure if I agree that this is actually a case of the innovator's dilemma, that said I wholeheartedly concur with the recommendation of the book--it's fantastic.

Also, I wonder if this strategy makes a lot more sense if viewed through the lens of them being acquired in the next few years.

In addition to being a young founder, Dan could be the most talented writer I know. Engineering + communication, quite a mix.

He's also a genuinely nice guy. A triple threat, if you will. ;)

I think this is the problem with the "product first, business later" approach that's dogma in Silicon Valley. People get used to such an extreme user/developer-centric experience that when the time comes for making some profit, it seems absurd to many people. What's so wrong with building the business and the product at the same time?

> And so what happens? They spend the 6 months they could have used learning to code, trying to find a cofounder instead.

Who goes from not knowing how to code to being a decent to good coder in 6 months? Maybe I'm just not that smart, but it took me many years to get to that level. Learn a few basics, hit a plateau, light-bulb is triggered on some concept accelerating your growth, hit another plateau, and on and on like that.

Agree 100% on nontechnical founder thing. And the sad thing is, though the level of skill needed for sustainable application development is very high, for building MVPs you need to know very little.

Like not 6 months worth, but on the order of a for dummies book. The fact that someone doesn't do this shows me they lack the desire and courage to achieve their vision.

Not sure how I'd tie it into Twitter, but my 2 cents.

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