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Black Widow (dcurt.is)
216 points by bradgessler on Aug 23, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments



Can someone name me an instance where a site as popular as Twitter eventually flopped because it didn't play nicely with third-party developers? I can't think of one, although I most certainly could be wrong.

There seems to be this idea that angry developers -> no apps -> crappier service -> users leaving, and I just don't see it. Apple has long been screwing developers with their App Store and yet how many thousands are out there coding away at their iPhone games, playing by every rule, however arbitrary, that Apple implements?

Developers aren't going to kill Twitter, but a better service more attractive to users will. I'm of the belief that at this point, Twitter's developed such a huge brand that the lack of app choices alone is nowhere near enough to decrease user engagement. Twitter is constantly on CNN, a myriad of other news channels, and almost every major celebrity tweet I've seen has been made from either the Twitter web interface or their Mac/iOS app.

Users have a much, much larger threshold of "abuse" than many people here seem to believe. Facebook ads, Twitter ads, no third-party Twitter apps, etc, are all very minor annoyances, if you can even call them that, to the majority of users. So while Twitter's new move is certainly frustrating for the developers that helped give them a boost initially, they've certainly got the momentum, brand-recognition, and celebrity engagement to keep them going for a while.


Twitter isn't going to die. At worst, it's merely going to cease being buzzworthy.

(Of course, in Silicon Valley this could feel like death.)

Twitter is probably going to be a fairly successful broadcast network for celebs. The fans will stay because that's where the celebs are, and the celebs will stay because that's where the fans are. And it's a nice medium for celebs: You don't have to write a lot of copy, sign any autographs, or even put on pants. Twitter could go on for decades as the new Entertainment Tonight. Certainly that must be their hope.

What might be dead are all the dreams that Twitter could be anything more than the new version of the E! network. People in Silicon Valley will speak of it about as often as they speak of NBC or HBO, and in much the same tones.


Celebrities are much more mobile than ordinary users. There aren't very many of them, they have social media teams/services who can post their content across multiple sites at no meaningful cost to themselves, and they have a large financial interest in the whole enterprise.


I agree with your point(s) but specific to this:

> Can someone name me an instance where a site as popular as Twitter eventually flopped because it didn't play nicely with third-party developers?

The internet is still very new, the internet in its current form is even newer. Facebook is ~8 years old, Twitter is ~6 years old, it's probably not even worth considering previous examples of social sites and developers because even Twitter in 2010 and Twitter now is significantly different (as a company, product and community).


Agreed, a platform like this hasn't really existed before so it's difficult if not impossible to point to an example for that reason.


I completely agree with your points.

What I'm curious is when devs stop blocking Twitter on their end. It's a hard business decision since Twitter does drive so much traffic, but I'm curious how many links are published from instagram, foursquare, tumblr, etc., I'd wager that tweets published from services like this aren't a trivial part of Twitter's traffic. I wonder if it would really have an affect on Twitter and if users would bother to manually tweet. While this is anecdotal evidence, I know a fair amount of people who went to Twitter because these services were linked to it.


It's all relative, isn't it? The App Store has a pretty good story as far as development and especially deployment go, especially compared to prior mobile platforms.


Quite to the contrary as what is being supposed, a deluge of mediocre developers has actually ruined more than one platform.

Pre-Nintendo, the entire video game industry crashed because of awful developers. When Nintendo broke into the scene, they were notorious for their stringent quality guidelines and hated for some time as a result.


They weren't hated for their "stringent quality guidelines" they were hated for their censorship of video games and essentially telling developers to change things for really really stupid reasons. The only people that hated Nintendo were people who had to release through NOA because NoJ did not care at all.

Is that a cross symbol on a hospital in Mother 2? Better change that because I heard crosses are religious symbols and that's not allowed by NOA! Want to release more than 5 games in a year? Not allowed by NOA so better form some shell companies like Konami did by creating Ultragames (released Metal Gear for NES and TMNT). Want to call your boss Hellbat? Sorry better change it to Devilbat.

Want to make a game for a Nintendo console (which during that time they held pretty much a monopoly since what else did you have besides Gameboy and NES? Gameboy/NES held a large portion of the market)? Well you better order a minimum amount of cartridges. "Because we certainly don't want another video game crash like we had in 1983"

At least it's different now right? Oh wait, they're still kinda dicks to this very day.

http://www.nintendoworldreport.com/news/29857

Developers didn't cause the crash of 1983. Greedy companies did. Developers weren't the ones who decided that ET the video game needed to be finished by Christmas after starting the project in July of that same year. Imagine having 6 months to finish anything as difficult as a video game.


Couple other related points:

ET only really had 5 weeks, not 6 months. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.T._the_Extra-Terrestrial_(vid...

Similarly, Atari rushed Pac Man, and overproduced. "Given the popularity of the property, Atari produced 12 million units, anticipating a high number of sales." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pac-Man_(Atari_2600) At the time, there weren't even 12 million consoles in existence - they'd banked on people buying consoles just to play Pac Man at home.


What's ironic then, is that Nintendo has slowly lost its dominance over the video game console industry by its slow erosion of its developer base.

PlayStation was hugely enabled by Square "rebelling" against Nintendo and siding with Sony, while XBox has broken through at least partly through its fervent support for its developers.


What's ironic then, is that Nintendo has slowly lost its dominance over the video game console industry...

How are you measuring dominance? I don't really follow these types of things closely, but hasn't Nintendo been in the video game business longer than any of its current competitors and hasn't the Wii dramatically outsold it's current crop of competitors? They've certainly had plenty of flops and bad years, but who exactly is more dominant than Nintendo in the console arena?


The Wii is winning if the only metric is pure console sales. I know personally that even though I own one. I've played a single game on it in the last 2 years and the last 6 months it's been delegated to a Netflix machine in the bedroom. I wouldn't exactly label that "dominance" of the current generation.

Plus, all you have to do is go back a single console generation and you have the Gamecube which was absolutely dominated in pretty much any category you can think of by the Playstation 2. Even the Xbox, a console by a company no one though should develop a console, managed to beat the Gamecube in sales.

Go back one generation further and again the Playstation dominated the Nintendo 64.

I would argue that Nintendo hasn't been in a dominant position in a very long time. The sales of the Wii were a big win for Nintendo, but they aren't really delivering on the games front. The Wii was sold at a time when the casual market was ready to explode. But now it's just turned into that thing no one uses. Hell, I bought a $99 Wii for my girlfriend's parents mainly so they would be able to watch Netflix. Sure, it was another Wii sale, but that's not exactly what we usually talk about when we talk about dominance in the gaming industry.


"The Wii is winning if the only metric is pure console sales."

You may not have bought a lot of Wii games, but they are competitive on the tie ratio metric: http://www.vgchartz.com/analysis/platform_totals/Tie-Ratio/G... Basically, on every objective metric, they are either competitive or flat-out won this round.

It takes a lot of dancing to try to claim otherwise, but a lot of people seem ready to do that dance. I'm not sure why. I don't like Apple particularly well personally, but I don't try to run around proving they aren't an extremely successful company.

Oh, and if we're going to talk console dominance, one should probably not forget that Nintendo has simply owned the portable gaming world for 12 years now, since the Gameboy came out. The only thing that has ever successfully competed with the Gameboy or DS lines are the next Nintendo model.


Agreed on the portable gaming world, but I don't think it's difficult to see how Nintendo's position in the console gaming market is not nearly as strong as strong as it was during its NES/SNES days.


Nintendo is a bit different from the other brands on hardware sales though. If you bought a PS3 or 360 at launch and didn't buy any games, you were actually hurting Microsoft and Sony because they lost money on each console sold. Nintendo sells the Wii at a profit. Just buying a console and never using it gives them money. The same can't be said for the others.


Wii has outsold PS3 and 360 by about 50% each, but not combined. But based on shelf space devoted to games in stores, you'd probably guess Wii was losing. Their dominance is somewhat less than dominant.


Their console has generally been cheaper and more aimed at casual gamers and young kids, which happens to be a bigger target market. They are also less likely to stay engaged and continue to purchase additional games though.


Nintendo's two consoles before the Wii were vastly outsold by their competitors, Sony's Playstation brand. The point that was being made: Nintendo suffered, at least in the past, because third party developers jumped ship. They may have had a comeback by going after a different market, but that's hardly remaining "dominant", unless you consider Microsoft's Xbox line a complete flop.


Nintendo is massively more profitable at the moment than Sony or Microsoft, how are you measuring erosion here?


Are you talking about the same Nintendo that reported their first annual loss a few months ago?


I barely understand economy, but it seemed to be money valuation backfire, they couldn't do anything about it.


Due to the Nintendo 3DS, not their core Wii product. Sony and Microsoft have bled billions year after year while Nintendo raked it in, a single year's loss is nothing in comparison.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. To Twitter, one Kardashian is worth thousands of developers. Apps don't matter to twitter. Developers don't matter to twitter. Celebrities matter to twitter.

As DCurt points out so eloquently, twitter is largely a one way medium. Celebrities -> everyone else. If you need proof, look at anyone's twitter stream (including your own) and note the ratio of famous people to actual friends. The average person clearly doesn't care about apps or developers or even social networking. They just want to feel a little bit closer to someone who is better known than they are.

The real twitter killing app is whatever attracts celebrities. Anything else might have a long road.


I'm not convinced that this is true. Here look at this random kid I picked. Nearly everyone he's following looks like a peer:

https://twitter.com/#!/fireattherocks/following

At the very least I'm not willing to believe your premise until someone can back it up with data.


"twitter is largely a one way medium. Celebrities -> everyone else"

"I'm not convinced that this is true. Here look at this random kid I picked. Nearly everyone he's following looks like a peer:"

This is the problem with inferring statistical properties from a sample size of 0 or 1. Here's some data on the subject: http://www.intmath.com/blog/twitter-follower-semi-log-graphs...

The sharp drop from having 0 to ~1000 followers on the graph on number of followers indicates that twitter is somewhat of a one-way medium.


I don't think that data supports the claim that Twitter is a one-way medium. What it shows is that there are a significant number of Twitter relationships which are one-way, but that doesn't mean that any individual is solely using Twitter as a receiving medium. What you would need is data on the number of users with no followers who are still reading their timeline; in the linked post, Dalton says this is high, but doesn't provide a link and I can't find data on this.


I actually think both of you are right. It's not about exclusively communicating with your friends or exclusively following celebs, it's about both. What you care about combined with a personal audience to discuss it with. The kid you found as an example subscribes to Paul Ryan's and Newt Gingrich's feeds along with his friends' feeds. Twitter can target Republican, right-leaning ads towards him. Maybe he discusses politics with his friends online and off.


I agree with this completely.

I have yet to even meet someone that uses twitter. I have always seen twitter as a valleywood product. Seems to me like the people that use it, use it because they think they are suppose to.


Well, let's see. Twitter has 500M registered accounts (according to Wikipedia) and a churn rate of about ~80% as of 2010[1], a (very) ballpark estimate of active users is 100M.

While you personally may not have met anyone who uses it, I know a lot of people who do and they are certainly not all in "Valleywood." And I'm pretty sure no active user is using it "because they think they are supposed to"; there's no evidence that suggests people who aren't really that interested in Twitter keep coming back to use it out of a mysterious sense of obligation.

[1]: http://liesdamnedliesstatistics.com/2010/01/80-twitter-accou...


What does it mean to be an "active" user? If I use it once a month, or even once a week while following a search, am I "active"?

I have a twitter account. I just about never "tweet", but occasionally look for information there. Mostly I ignore it. I don't know how the churn is measured, but I know a lot of people who fit into that category -- they use it, but not heavily. If something else replaced it I would barely notice.

Whereas, in my experience, many Facebook users seem much more heavily committed to Facebook, since it has updates of friends and family. (I don't use Facebook at all, so this is just an observation -- would love to see more data contrasting the two services.)


I have a few twitter accounts - most of which are tech based and rapidly becoming uninteresting to me.

But my football (soccer) account - in which I live-tweet updates during the game has thousands of followers and is a really interesting mix of people. (Also the username matches the club name as the club was late to Twitter - so I think I pick up followers who are searching for the official account).

I've not done any formal analysis but I always take a quick look at people when I follow back and I read the feed most days, even when there isn't a match.

And I would say that about 70 or 80% of followers don't tweet regularly and follow lots of "famous" names without many followers themselves (this percentage has increased a lot in the last 18 months).

Of those that do tweet, only about 20% are tech-savvy and there are several "cliques" - probably groups of friends who know each other in real life - who tweet amongst themselves a lot. These groups tend to have about 5 or 10 regular members. This makes up the vast majority of the feed.

And most of the rest of the tweets I see are publicists of various types; journalists, SEOs, bloggers and the footballers themselves.

EDIT: corrected some bad grammar.


>I have yet to even meet someone that uses twitter.

Odd. Twitter has been a great intelligence tool for me (I don't live in the valley, but I'm definitely tech-centric so not representative of the general population). I've heard of interesting projects and tools with it, I virtually "met" someone who I ended up collaborating on a successful project with, I got tipped off about an amazing travel package through an amateur agency with it, I got notified of a coding contest with it that won me registration to Google I/O, etc. etc. It changed my perspective and life, honestly.

My Twitter use has, however, dropped off sinced my favourite web-based Twitter tool went offline. Twitter's official web client simply doesn't do what's needed and I don't like using non-web clients. I am now working on a personal Twitter client when I find time. Once that's done I'll return.


"Twitter has an enormous advantage over Facebook in one key area: while people on Facebook tend to friend their friends, people on Twitter tend to follow their interests. The following graph from Twitter is worth far more on a per-account basis because it is directly monetizable in a way that Facebook’s generally isn’t – you can show prophylactic advertisements to Twitter users based solely on the people they follow, and probably get a much higher rate of interest. Compared to other social display ads, Twitter ads, it is rumored, work extremely well."

Facebook users friend their friends AND follow celebrities/brands/products. Facebook also encourages you to share a lot of information about interests and locations. You might also share the same on Twitter, but its not neatly saved as part of your profile.

I'm not sure Facebook will be able to make more money off advertising then Twitter, but if they don't, it wont be because of lack of information about your interests.


Devs are like artists moving into rundown neighborhoods.

"No one was here when we moved in. Windows were broken, it was dangerous after dark. But the rents were cheap and the architecture awesome so we all moved in." "Soon good coffee shops and restaurants opened. Some buildings were fixed up. It was great!" "Then the hipsters/wannabes/yuppies started moving in. They drove up rents and the price of a latte. Now we can't afford to live around here anymore. This SUCKS"

As someone below mentions Twitter is 6 years old. It's outgrown the early wave. Neighborhoods don't usually suddenly collapse back again. But new neighborhoods soon flourish in old rundown neighborhoods. Better to focus on the next neighborhood than lament the march of time.


I think Twitter understands that there is a much lower barrier to leaving their service for a competitor, compared to the other social services.

What data do you have in Twitter that you wouldn't be prepared to leave behind?


Only the graph, rebuilding your following/ followers would be a pain. Which makes sense that if they are going to be a pain about anything it is restricting access to rebuilding the graph on competing services.


Now would be a fantastic time for Google+ or App.net to sweep in and get developers on their respective sides. Past social networks have gone in phases, and I wouldn't be surprised if this doesn't begin to push people away from the platform.

No, it won't kill Twitter, but it will lead to the rising up of something else, akin to how Twitter started to gain traction when they debuted their API.


Twitter's advantages are 1) asymmetric follow and 2) a head start. Neither provides an insurmountable barrier.


twitter has apps?

I mean, I'm kidding, mostly, but really, what are twitter apps for? slightly easier input from a phone? I thought that most of the value of twitter was that it was 'like a rss aggrigator but easier'


Yes, the primary added value was user experience. However, devs also built apps for the corporate market that go beyond consumption use cases.

Granted, Twitter has been working on their own business services and apps that fall under that category will probably remain unaffected (for now).


So the reason twitter closing its API as as an attempt to maintain their 'walled garden'? Rather than building a sustainable competitive advantage they are freezing out developers and hoping for the best?

Perhaps it is part of a larger scheme, that leads to monetization?


Instant YC startup: Twitter alternative with free 3rd party app support up to a given volume with dirt-cheap pricing for additional volume beyond that - long-tail your way to success just like an app store. Am I missing something obvious here?


Although I sometimes am left feeling shallow--after reading one of the shorter blog posts like this one from the front page of HN--I am usually thankful more words were not used on the same topic.


    >The problem with this solution is that Twitter was built
    >on the backs of the very developers it is now blocking.
Was it really? I've never seen any specific stats, but what are the number of users solely relying on a third party app to use Twitter versus the number of users who just use the site? I bet there are a lot more who just go to mobile.twitter.com or use the official client instead of paying for a third party app.


Twitter didn't have an official mobile client for a while. It was the 3rd-party developers that brought Twitter to mobile.

Twitter's web app stagnated until recently. Apps like Tweetdeck filled the gap.


Didn't the "official" client start out as a third party app. Tweetie.


And I'm asking how much of an effect it really had. The fact third party apps exist doesn't mean the majority of users, or even a worthwhile number, use them.


Yes, it did.


The thing most of these types of criticisms of Twitter forget is that users don't make apps, developers do.


140 characters is equally smart and equally shameful for Internet from where i see it. Twitter will do what fits its revenue model relentlessly and ruthlessly, since its logical and rational. Point is since you can't fight it "Kill It" and build a new one.




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