Look, I understand the sentiment, but here's the thing.
Twitter only exists as we know it today because a lot of people have poured a lot of money into it. Without that money, Twitter would be an impossibility. It simply would not exist, at least not at anywhere near the scale it exists at today.
My guess is that, for the people who poured in all that money, "leaving a mark on humanity" was not the primary reason they opened their wallets. They opened their wallets because they expected to make more money by doing so. They were making investments, not charitable contributions. And at some increasingly near point, those people are going to want to see a return on their investments. That means that, barring an acquisition, Twitter needs to find a way to turn a (hopefully large, from the investors' viewpoint) profit -- and sooner rather than later.
Why would you ever have thought things would be otherwise? Twitter is a company. Companies that don't make money usually don't survive. The best case scenario is that they get bought out and operated as a vanity project by a deep-pocketed patron, the way a lot of magazines are. But a magazine is a much smaller and cheaper-to-run enterprise than a centralized, global real-time communications network. Whose pockets are deep enough to run Twitter at a loss indefinitely?
If you organize yourself as a for-profit corporation, and take on investors, at some point you have to bring in more money than you burn. Otherwise you will at some point have to scale back your ambitions, because you simply will not be able to afford them anymore.
Twitter, in other words, is meeting its destiny. Maybe that destiny is not to make as big a "mark on humanity" as people wish. But without all the money they took from those investors who are breathing down their necks now, Twitter would never have been able to scale up to where it is today at all. And that money came with the condition that Twitter would at some point figure out a way to pay it back, with interest.
That point is now.
You don't need to have $1Billion dollars in financing to offer a service like this -- this is what the likes of app.net are teaching us.
A $50million Twitter could have "easily" sustained it's vision/objective without having to cannibalise it's entire ecosystem.
However someone promised the moon to a bunch of financiers and now they have to deliver above and beyond of what Twitter could have been, or should have just been.
As far I'm concerned that is the story of Twitter, a company that took the money and ran.
Sometimes you do. We've seen a dramatic amount of "overfunding" of social media startups, and I have a theory why.
When your business model doesn't involve well, actually making money at its core, you end up in a position where you have to staff up massively so you can pursue an enormously vast range of monetization strategies in the hopes of finding something that sticks.
How many people on Facebook do you think are working on the core product - as in the Facebook that end users interact with on a daily basis? How many instead are working on a enormously numerous systems that Facebook hopes would make them monetizable? Ad platforms, billing systems, support systems, analytics systems, etc etc.
So yeah, Twitter as defined as "that thing where you submit strings of 140 chars or less and follow others doing the same" probably didn't need $1bn to get off the ground. Twitter in the "this might actually make money" sense though, probably isn't THAT overfunded.
1bln is funding is unreasonable, both from a technology standpoint (Twitter does go down, btw) and from a "let's figure out a way to monetize this" standpoint.
2) Don't you think it's a little early to compare app.net and twitter? App.net is in it's infancy and is nowhere near the product twitter is
3) What could Twitter have been exactly? How did closing a few API's off prevent it from getting there?
4) Have you ever imagined that perhaps your vision for Twitter and Twitter's vision for Twitter just do not mesh?
2) Don't like App.net? Pick Reddit vs Digg, same case. One managed to "get by" with a core team, the other took a ton of money, hired a bunch of folks, made a bunch of promises, and tried to shoehorn their original vision, the one that got them established in the first place, into something completely different. Reddit, makes money and is sustainable -- it just didn't need to make that much money -- as a user that's fine by me, and the reason why Reddit "won". If only Digg was happy to "just" be a $50mill website...
3) Twitter is what it's users/supporters made it to be. Its service/value was understood from the get-go, and in turn, it's popularity grew for that same reason -- ppl understood it's vision and supported by building upon it -- hence cannibalizing your core base by knee-capping your API, probably isn't the best way to go.
4) My vision of Twitter is fine, like many others, I think it's got something to do with SMS-web-mobile-140-characters-distributed-micro-messaging-or-summin? Does it need to be more than that?
According to TechCrunch the only money Reddit ever raised was $100k of seed funding (http://www.crunchbase.com/company/reddit). That's a very different trajectory than Twitter, who (again according to TC: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/twitter) have raised $1.16 billion (with a B) in funding.
Taking in that sort of money raises the stakes dramatically. Nobody loans you a billion dollars to build a $50 million/year business.
That was OzzyB's original point: Twitter should not have taken big VC money. They took too much money. From his first post:
> someone promised the moon to a bunch of financiers and now they have to deliver above and beyond of what Twitter could have been, or should have just been.
1.16 billion of capital and 140 employees
6.0-7.0 billion valuation, estimated
In terms of profit per employee, you're looking at 50 to 100 million to 'break even' at that vauation
So, part of it is the $$ raised and part is the $$ valuation
Is it possible paint yourself into a box, strategically, if you take money at aggressive valuation?
Edit: Headcount data look out of date at TechCrunch. See comment below, this now ~1,000 not 140.
General direction of the comment is distilled, still as follows:
1) valuation is 7x invested capital
2) The invested capital is large, requires large exit
3) This is going to put pressure on the team ($10-15B exit?)
4) Thats a requires lot of $$/head for the team to bring in
I don't know how much it takes Twitter (even though it should be relatively easy to find out), but I do have an idea how much it should take.
Twitter presentations suggest 70 million messages per day. 800 tweets per second:
It's not that much, actually. Some of us have processed 50-70 million transactions per day on a much smaller infrastructure (25..40 AWS boxes) - quite often designed and deployed just days prior to the massive traffic spike, with fancy features like real-time fraud checking etc.
It's not that hard to do what Twitter does. At least, with the amount of financial backing that they have, I don't expect them to be failing in a spactacular fashion periodically.
I'm sorry. I really am. I know this isn't Reddit. But...
Yes. Yes, on average, a given tweet reaches ONE HUNDRED PEOPLE. Do any of you folks even listen to yourself? Even if you change that to "users" instead of "people," since so many twitter accounts are robots - even then, 100 users on average for every tweet is ABSURD.
> the polling that twitter applications do even when there are no new tweets
Polling with no new tweets is far easier to optimize than polling when there are tweets. So just discount this almost entirely in your roughshod analysis.
> spam filtering
Have you been on twitter? We all get spam and see fake accounts trying to get at us regularly. Try mentioning you're on a diet on twitter and see how many followers you rack up. If they're filtering spam, they're not filtering it well, so I hope they aren't burning too much cash on it.
> API servers
API servers are frontends that use dramatically fewer resources than the work the backends have to do. If Twitter's frontends are costing them much money, again, they're wasting money.
My point was that the grandparent was probably an order of magnitude or more off counting 70 million new messages per day as 70 million transactions per day.
I'm not saying they're doing things well, but it's pretty naive to think that you could build Twitter's infrastructure with <50 AWS instances.
You think the API is a trivial matter of spinning up some front end machines? From that presentation linked to above, they were getting 6 Billion API calls per day, or 70k/sec.
Besides that, all of these numbers are 2 years old, and according to those slides, they were growing at about 10x per year. It has probably slowed, but those numbers may all be much bigger now.
Any centralized system that has to support tens or hundreds of millions of users in real time is going to be seriously expensive to operate. There may well be a point at which it's simply economically infeasible to do it without splitting the expense into tiny slices borne by lots of different parties, the way we do for email.
Actually, there is: app.net could just observe what twitter did.
And twitter didn't have to go through it either; There's discussions going on about that since 2008 when their uptime suffered outage after outage; here's something I wrote 2 years ago, for example: http://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/b2u6t/twitter_o... and I had given that same answer before several time in other forums.
> Any centralized system that has to support tens or hundreds of millions of users in real time is going to be seriously expensive to operate.
And yet, reddit which is much more complex, and of comparable reach (I don't have time to google the numbers right now, let's say it has 1/10 of the audience), costs much less than 1/10 of twitter's operational costs. And is profitable.
> There may well be a point at which it's simply economically infeasible to do it without splitting the expense into tiny slices borne by lots of different parties, the way we do for email.
Actually ... I suspect gmail can easily handle the entire world email infrastructure, cheaply and reliably. They already handle a two-digit percentage of the world email accounts.
For sure, facebook can do that - they already do it (although it is simplified email).
The reason email is sliced is not a problem of scale - it is a problem of control.
edit: removed half a sentence that was there, and which was written earlier.
But ... the real question, is even if I brought it in a turn-key and backward compatible setup for them (that is, they pay $3M, I install stuff, we flick a switch, and everything just works) - would it be worth $3M to them?
I suspect the answer is: Not worth any kind of risk or hassle to save $10M/year (or however much it would save them; if it is more than $10M/year, I'd be surprised).
I don't know how they spend their money, but I'm willing to bet that running the service is less than 10% of their expenses. (Of the money spent to get e.g. win95, or a new drug, to market, r&d costs are usually no more than 5-10%)
I think Twitter hasn't been a lean organization in years, and they took too much money to "reboot" themselves as a lean.
I think Twitter is already dead, it just won't acknowledge.
There have been previous, less successful iterations of the same common idea. Twitter hit critical mass in terms of it's user base and has created neat and unique nuances that make it's version of human-human communication on the web innovative and fun and successful. Kudos to them. It's the social network du jor for fast communication. But there will eventually be other iterations in the future. Some more successful, some less. Perhaps some new incarnations from Twitter itself as they evolve their product over the next decade.
If Twitter has a "mark", it's that they created a way to "flatten the world of communication" and take discussions to a realm where everything and everyone are drawing on the same board at the same time.
But in the end, these are all services that facilitate human interactions that have existed for thousands of years. We've just taken those interactions and put them all on an even plane at the same time, and exposed them in a way that is amazingly accessible.
So when we talk about "Twitter changing the world", I get confused. It's always humans that change the world, we're just using a different vehicle and techniques to get there. So... Rhetorical flourishes and hyperbole aside... How was Twitter changing the world, and how is it not anymore...?
Twitter was a utility. Now it's ABC. It could have changed the world in the way that, you know, the web changed the world. But instead it's changing the world in the way that cable news changes the world. That's what's so bizarre about Ev Williams to me. He's so damn talented but he doesn't give a shit about anything but the flip. It's true of so many founders these days; everyone worships Steve Jobs and not enough worship Tim Berners-Lee.
I honestly have no idea what this means. Twitter is still a utility for communication. ABC is a content provider, not a utility.
>> " It could have changed the world in the way that, you know, the web changed the world."
I am also scratching my head at this statement. Perhaps you could elaborate, I have no concept of how Twitter could have changed the world in the way that the World Wide Web did. WWW was an astronomical leap in the way we perceive and use the Internet. Twitter has been a revelation for many average consumers who did not take advantage of the social nature of the web as many people had previously, but to compare it to the creation of the WWW itself is--in my view--a little far-fetched.
>> "But instead it's changing the world in the way that cable news changes the world. "
I again respectfully have no concept of what you are talking about.
And finally, generally: All this hand-wringing about Twitter irrationally eschewing it's mantle as the savior of humanity and as the last true final hope for a social web and social networking services in general (or whatever values you are projecting on this company)....
Wow... I mean seriously guys? We're talking about closing down a few client-side API's among other things.
Don't you think this hyperbole is getting just a tad out of touch with reality?
Everybody needs you, low maintenance + reasonable income space on the Monopoly board.
But to rephrase slightly, is that the exception that proves the rule?
[nb - I don't disagree with your point, but what is missing to encourage more things in this direction? Wikipedia is another utility example, but again is so rare]
Yes, that's reality. Yes, it's unfortunate and we wish it wasn't so.
I love Twitter the medium. I wish Twitter the company would find a way to monetize without taking this route. I like to think that I would have done something different in their position, but who knows.
Founded by a hacker-idealist who wanted to bring people and technology together like never before. The experiment worked wonderfully at first as millions of people flocked to Facebook's revolutionary platform from around the world. Soon, questions of profitability came into the picture, forcing executives to compromise ethics for additional revenue. Chaos erupted and millions began to question their loyalty and wonder about their safety/privacy. Over time, the platform has become overgrown with ads (that are rarely clicked), spam (that embarrasses it's victims), and scandals (that frighten even the most loyal users). Fear of extinction due to unexpected competition has pushed Facebook to become even more aggressive by inflating the value of the company to astronomical proportions, acquihiring dozens of startups, and raising billions in an IPO. Today, the future of Facebook is in the air. No one knows how the variables will compound and what this corporate gene sequence will evolve into...
Facebook has roughly 4x as much source code as Jurassic Park did, and probably can't be run from a single room for up to three days with minimal staff.
Also, if say, Facebook Profiles breaks down, the profiles don't eat the users.
If your Facebook data gets exploited, it could affect you in big ways.
Some of us devs just have to admit that we are not that important to the success of Twitter, at least, not anymore. It's also not a charity so they need to make money somewhere, I don't really see the problem here.
My problem with this stance is the same problem I have with so called "browser share".
I am not beholden to a single interface. I'm human. I'm dynamic. I move and change.
That means sometimes I use the website. Sometimes I use the mobile app. Sometimes I embed Tweets on a website. Sometimes I use a website's embedded tweets to follow them instead of following them on Twitter. I send photos and tweets from apps, and I consume tweets from multiple sources.
Twitter is almost as ubiquitous as water for me, the ways I consume and use it in my day to day. There is no single one size fits all interface to Twitter in my workflow, only Twitter the service. Because if there were, if I had to go to the website and only the website, or the app and only the app, I wouldn't use it. I don't use things that get in my way. You either fit into my workflow, or you don't.
And I'll miss the Mac OS desktop client if the rumors are true, because the website doesn't have a simple way to switch between multiple Twitter identities if I'm running a personal Twitter, a brand Twitter. And also because they bought Tweetie only to, eventually, kill it. But we've had this discussion before.
My gut reaction is to agree with you that the Hacker community is overreacting to getting screwed over and that Twitter will go on fine without us. But without any facts about how popular and widely used these third party apps are, my opinion is really just a guess.
As for the website... Twitter loses all its value to me if I have to open a browser every time I want to read content.
This is how some of us justify working for the military; they offer really tough problems to solve.
Twitter is the same; if twitter offered me a job, I would practically move to the bay and live out of my jeep to do it.
I believe this is demonstrated clearly by the jobs pages for both Apple and Google. From Apple:
* Every detail matters… It matters all of the time. That’s how we do things at Apple. The result is some of the best-loved products in the world.
* Simplicity isn’t simple... It means rethinking every customer experience until the clutter has fallen away — until all that remains is what’s essential, useful, and beautiful. That might be a new product feature that delights even die-hard fans.
From Google, specifically an interview with Google employees about work there:
* ”... love to work on challenging projects”
* ”... love being faced with problems that were not ever solved before”
* ”... you hear people talking about algorithms and coding and programming languages”
* ”... it was just a pleasure being interviewed by smart people and being given a lot of puzzling questions”
I discussed this in a blog post I wrote which you can find here: http://mgp.github.com/2012/02/13/problems-and-products.html
I used to work at Google, and I joined there during a period when I wanted to work on interesting (i.e. hard) problems. I left to work on interesting products.
In my experience this only describes 10% of the programmer population. The rest don't really want either, they just like the benefits and the paycheck.
They also don't work at Twitter, Google, or Apple, not many do anyhow.
Actually, I don't think the distinction really exists. Some people like to crack hard algorithmic problems, some people like to crack hard systems problems, others like to crack hard markets, or hard product verticals. It's all part of the same thing - people like to accomplish things that are hard to do and interesting to try.
 I lied. I can't sell you a bridge because I suck at it. But somebody will. To you and your friends. Let's talk again in 10 years. Sigh, when did I get so cynical? Then again, it's not cynical to see the feedback loops between who you work with and what you work on and the million other seemingly minor details that go into liking what you do. Yeah, maybe I'm ok. The comparison to suckers is entirely unfair; for that I apologize. It's just the circle of life.
"Very true. Along the same lines, Google+ is the Major League Soccer of social networks. Other countries have very successful soccer leagues that happened organically. The US tried to manufacture a soccer league, and it spent a ton of money in doing so. It so happens that the most talented athletes in the country prefer sports that are already popular. The most interesting people in the league are has-beens from Europe. Still, nothing wrong with being the fifth or sixth most popular sport in the country." -Diego Basch
In the old days, I'd guess Yahoo! would be in the running, but since they have a history of buying popular sites and then letting them wither, I hope Meyer isn't going to fall for that again.
Sell the network effect, let someone else try and monetize it.
It took an old idea and make it new and relevant again.
In the second movement, it went huge and was the new sensation.
The conclusion of the story will be bland and all over the place. With pundits failing to see that the emperor has no clothes.
It was an easy, no fuss way of getting social media into software. Facebook caused me no end of bother, its API was (still is?) an 'it exists, and here's the calls, good luck buddy' affair.
Now, I'm not sure the functions I used would pass the API ToS.
Twitter is such a disapointment for me and i'm looking forward too to see their first profitable year.
Twitter was originally thought of as a small family/close friends network.