Twitter and the collective memory of the developers’ community (or lack thereof)

Enrique Dans
Oct 23, 2014 · 3 min read

Twitter’s is a story littered with problems with its development community. From its beginnings, the company’s philosophy has been based on open development ecosystems that allow just about anybody to come up with applications of all types related to the company’s services. As a result, soon after its launch, users had access to clients for just about all platforms, along with a huge number of services attempting to improve the company’s services. Many of the elements that we see as an integral part of Twitter, including such basic functions as images, videos, and geolocalization, are the fruit of the work carried out by external developers.

Twitter’s response to the development community’s interest has been, to say the least, contradictory, with the company regularly alienating developers by moves such as acqui-hires of outstanding development companies — a relatively common practice in the business — and its willingness to use developers and then dump them. Developing for Twitter has become something of a risk sport, one dependent on the company sticking to its plans. It has launched new services, then moved the goal posts, as well as had complicated relationships with apps that introduced advertising in users’ timelines; then there are cases such as Loïc LeMeur with Seesmic, who had to pivot his company’s focus on several occasions until finally he sold it to Hootsuite, of which there are many.

Now, following a series episodes that have been dubbed a war on developers, Twitter has announced its most ambitious plan yet: Fabric, an ecosystem made up of different tools for developing cellphone applications that involves attracting new users, use and stability analysis, Twitter’s own tools for viral diffusion, or revenue streams from advertising via MoPub, one of the company’s star acquisitions. This may prove an offer they cannot refuse for many developers, even bearing in mind Twitter’s history.

At the same time, as Mat Honan’s spot-on analysis in Wired highlights, this is easily Twitter’s most ambitious proposal ever, and could make it a building block in many areas, giving it control over an ecosystem that is almost comparable to one created by a device or an operating system, leading to a scenario where many people are hooked up to the company even if they are not Twitter users per se. This is a move that could change the company forever, based on it being adopted by developers.

Does the development community possess a collective memory that sees anything to do with Twitter in negative terms, or has it forgotten forever the problems that application creators went through all those years ago? After all, the app ecosystem is constantly changing, with a great deal of coming and going.

Furthermore, we’re not even talking about the same Twitter anymore: many of the people who took those decisions back then are not longer with the company, or at least don’t play much of a role in its day-to-day running: the company has changed in many ways, and is now traded on the stock exchange.

Fabric’s future will depend not so much on whether the public goes for it, but on whether developers are prepared to sign up. Making the wrong decision when it comes to developing an app can make or break a company, so Twitter will be watching the adoption curve among the development community very carefully…


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people…

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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