Twitter Is Not Evil, It's Just a Business

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Today, Twitter announced version 1.1 of its API. The announcement included some interesting changes:

  1. All API requests must now be authenticated. Twitter doesn’t talk to strangers anymore. You have to at least introduce yourself before it’ll talk to you.
  2. API hits are now counted per-endpoint. Some APIs have more hits hourly and some fewer, purportedly based on endpoint popularity.
  3. Display Guidelines are now required to be observed. If you display tweets off of Twitter, they must be consistent with Twitter’s visual style or else.
  4. Pre-installed client applications must be certified by Twitter. Applications that come installed on things like mobile devices must be Twitter tested, Twitter approved.
  5. Twitter app growth is limited to 100,000 users. Apps are only allowed to have 100,000 user tokens before they’re forced to ask Twitter “please, sir, I want some more?”

Twitter developers in 6 months

In short, Twitter started acting like a business. And the world was shocked and apalled.

Of course, as soon as this announcement went live, every blogger online started writing about it. But the big story isn’t the changes themselves, it’s this:

Twitter just published its long-term business strategy.

This is How We Do It in Silicon Valley

In Silicon Valley, the classic business model is: (1) Build a product; (2) Grow it like crazy; (3) ???; (4) Profit! Twitter is following it line by line.

OK, Twitter… which executive attended the Underpants Gnomes School of Business?

Biz and Ev did a great job with the Step 1 work of building a product, and Twitter began its Step 2 journey in October 2010 when Dick Costolo took over as CEO. Evidently 500M total users and 170M active users was enough for Twitter to declare victory, so onto Step 3!

What’s Next for Twitter?

Make no mistake: Twitter’s main mission now is monetization. It’s got tons of users; it just needs to figure out how to turn those users into cash.

Twitter Needs a New Ringer on the Revenue Team

Don’t be surprised if you hear about some new VP hires over the next several months, particularly in Advertising or something more vague like “Business Development” or “Partner Services.” Monetization takes a different team than development or business growth and Twitter wants to monetize fast, so it will be looking for an industry veteran with a track record and a network to lead the effort. By appearances, that search started in June.

Twitter Now Cares About Money More Than Users …or Developers

When Twitter determined that 75% of its millions of users are on official Twitter clients, it apparently concluded that community apps aren’t driving enough adoption to matter anymore, hence today’s announcement that put a cap on third-party growth to keep “off-strategy” apps from reaching critical mass.

Twitter to Developers: So Long, and Thanks for All the Users!

Fundamentally, this move is to keep developers from making tons of cash without sharing, which is a sound business move, but it’s a definite change in messaging. Regardless, now that in-house apps are king, you should expect Twitter to continue to harp on simplicity and richness of user experience along with visual branding to protect the user base they’ve made and continue to grow it.

Twitter Wants Help Figuring Out Analytics

If you’re an analyst, you should expect good things to come. Twitter has more than doubled API rate limits for many analytical endpoints while reducing hits for engagement endpoints, which is a nod from Twitter to the importance of analytics to the company’s future. However, it looks pretty strongly like Twitter is trying to learn how to do analytics from its API users, much in the same way it seems to have learned how to make a client from its app developers. In that way, analysts should only expect to be safe until Twitter realizes how to turn its data into money without pissing off the community, at which point it will make another right turn, this time cutting off analysts instead of developers.

The Twitter API Terms of Service have demonstrated this thinking since June 2011, when it started including language that essentially says for I am the Lord thy API, and thou shalt have no other APIs before me. Per the following excerpt from same, Twitter wants to control its own data destiny and wants to be the only programmatic shop for analytical data:

  1. You will not attempt or encourage others to:
    • sell, rent, lease, sublicense, redistribute, or syndicate access to the Twitter API or Twitter Content to any third party without prior written approval from Twitter.
      • If you provide an API that returns Twitter data, you may only return IDs (including tweet IDs and user IDs).
      • You may export or extract non-programmatic, GUI-driven Twitter Content as a PDF or spreadsheet by using “save as” or similar functionality. Exporting Twitter Content to a datastore as a service or other cloud based service, however, is not permitted.

So, if you’re an analyst — or even better, a developer and an analyst — that quadrant chart tells you everything we need to know:

  1. This is how Twitter sees the world. You would do well to talk about any Twitter analytics apps using that vocabulary.
  2. The highlighted topics in the chart are what Twitter considers to be growth areas for its business.
  3. Analytics and engagement are both on the roadmap, and Twitter is trying to learn how to fit the two together. Based on API endpoint access changes, Twitter thinks it gets engagement, but doesn’t have a lot of confidence in its analytics.
  4. These charted apps are “on-strategy,” so if you build one of those apps fast and right you stand a good chance of getting acquired.

Just try not get caught in the stampede to build the next Twitter acquisition.

So Twitter’s Evil Now, Right?

Oh, totally. A reliable source told me this is the current forerunner for the new VP of Advertising business:

Dude, the hoodie isn’t really a good disguise in San Francisco.

No. Twitter is not evil. Twitter is a business, and don’t be so surprised. Remember, boys and girls, if you’re not paying to use something, you are the product, and if you like what you’re not paying for that’s not always a bad thing. As always, be careful what you share online, but Twitter is pretty careful with your anonymous data.

So, no, guys, Twitter is not evil — it’s just a business.