The Internet of Tweets

Anil Dash
Anil Dash
Jun 11, 2015 · 13 min read

Everybody’s got advice on what Twitter needs to do at its current crossroads. The answer might lie in revisiting the moment they first broke geeks’ hearts.

I took it as a bad sign that Will.I.Am was hanging around backstage at a conference for software developers.

Let’s Get It Started

In the spring of 2010, Twitter was just graduating from being the hottest startup in tech to being a genuine cultural phenomenon. Chirp was the company’s first big conference, a glitzy coming-out for the company and its leaders. Advertised as its “first annual” event (there have been none since), Chirp showed that Twitter was a big enough institution to be able to command the attention of a theater full of geeks and press. I found myself there as a sort of legacy admission, thanks to the fact that I’d been working on building some apps on top of Twitter’s platform, and had known the founders of the company back when they were just ordinary geeks.

Then-CEO of Twitter Evan Williams at Chirp, explaining the biggest challenge facing Twitter as a company. He since founded this site, Medium, which is also too hard. (Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid)

Where is the love?

Twitter’s struggle to win over investors is mostly due to the fact that most folks on Wall Street don’t really have a nuanced view of how social networking and social media platforms work. The market wants metrics, but picks and chooses which metrics they care about pretty arbitrarily, based on the whims of not-exactly-Zuckerberg pundits like Jim Cramer, or by looking at the numbers of other services like Facebook’s much-vaunted Monthly Active User (MAU) count — the number of people who log in to use the service each month.

When Will.I.Am DJed the afterparty for Twitter’s Chirp conference, he literally followed Don’t Stop Believin’ with Sweet Child o’ Mine, which is hard to read as anything but contempt for the conference’s attendees.

I Gotta Feeling

The funny thing about many developers being convinced that Twitter doesn’t care about them is that it’s pretty clear that Twitter is better to its developers than almost any other social networking or social media company. I was at Chirp because I’d helped built a tool that relied on Twitter’s data, not as a client app but for analyzing and understanding a user’s activity on the service.

  • Instagram: There are a few third-party tools that do specific tasks like regramming images or making collages, and some reading apps for platforms like iPad where Instagram was late. Still, Instagram hasn’t really spawned many successful full-featured client apps. A handful of analytics apps exist, but none of them have gotten that huge.
  • Tumblr: The few attempts at building client apps or services have generally been stymied by the company. Almost none of the analytics services built for Tumblr have been very successful.
  • LinkedIn: There used to be a few ways to build apps and services around LinkedIn, but almost all of them were shut down over the past year.
  • Pinterest: The company promised an interface for developers for years, but has only shipped a limited release of some tools for brands to be able to interact with the service. There are no Pinterest client apps.
  • Snapchat: Pretty much nothing.
  • WhatsApp: Same deal, you take what they give you.
  • Facebook: They’re not too bad, providing access to a lot of useful data, but recent privacy improvements for users have meant fewer features for developers that were relying on previously-accessible data.

The truth of it is, when compared to other social networking companies, Twitter ends up looking like one of the most developer-friendly big platforms.

As a developer trying to build on top of all of these services, most of the ones that were of the same vintage as Twitter screwed us. The newer ones don’t care about third-party developers at all. None of these companies have ever cared about enabling developers to make a client app. Yet none of them has earned the same scorn or derision from developers as Twitter has.

Scream & Shout

If we go back to that day in 2010, we can find out exactly what kind of things excited Twitter’s first wave of developers.

Annotations promised to upgrade tweets from being a 140-character postcard to being a 140-character message written on the outside of an envelope. What was inside the envelope? Whatever a developer could imagine.

At the time, this idea for Annotations was radical. Twitter’s core service had only just begun to stop displaying the fail whale, a whimsical and all-too-common illustration that popped up whenever the service was too overloaded to respond. To imaging going from not just being able to deliver tweets in realtime to anyone in the world, but to delivering almost any message in realtime to anyone in the world was a shocking leap forward.

#thatPower

One of the fastest growing categories in consumer technology these days are smart devices, which take ordinary household items and connect them to the internet. Each one usually comes with its own app. One app will tell you when your smart lightbulb is going to burn out, and another app for your smart toaster will tell you when it’s going to burn your toast. Each of the individual gadgets is pretty cool, but all of this noise on top of the nonstop barrage of notifications that light up your phone during the day seems like a recipe for message fatigue. It’s not difficult at all to make the argument that these notifications would be a better experience as delivered in Twitter’s signature stream.

Chris Sacca speaking at Twitter’s Chirp conference in 2010.

Boom Boom Pow

The thing is, it’s easy to write fan fiction imagining all kinds of features being invented by Twitter. I want a pony! And a new CEO who’s from an underrepresented community!

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection.

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.

Anil Dash

Written by

Anil Dash

CEO of @Glitch. Trying to make tech more ethical & humane. (Also an advisor to Medium.) More: http://anildash.com/

The Message

A Pandaemonium Revolver Collection. Season 2 stars @anildash @alanalevinson @ftrain @hipstercrite @itsthebrandi @jamielaurenkeiles @vijithassar @yungrama @zeynep. Season 1 available on DVD shortly.