I just finished a very interesting article by Bloomberg’s Mathew Ingram covering two new and troubling moves the folks over at Twitter have made in the last few weeks. You can read it here.
The gist is that they have been cutting more and more original partners out of access to their API, which is the way apps like Instagram, LinkedIn and Tumblr USED to allow you to connect with Twitter friends. Those original partners drove a lot of growth in Twitter as users tweeted out what they were creating or reading with those apps. It made the apps better and more social. Now, it appears Twitter is starting to focus on developing media partnerships and driving revenue off of advertising purchased by those partners. In order to do that, it’s narrowing access to the API so that only these media partners (like NBC, who was the test case for this strategy during the Olympics) will be able to really take advantage of Twitter’s “follower graph,” a fancy word for the user data.
I totally understand that user data is the crux of Twitter’s value, and I totally get their desire to exploit that value. What I don’t get is why they are following the path that so many other VC-driven software companies have followed, which is to abandon the very thing that makes them great in an effort to get big and rich. By removing these API connections, Twitter’s relevance to users who remain loyal to the apps Twitter used to support will be eroded. Maybe Twitter doesn’t care, thinking their big media push will more than compensate for these lost followers. But in my experience, whenever a cool app that adds a real functional value gets hijacked by big media money, its relevance rapidly declines. It gets sucked into the financial and editorial vortex of its benefactors, watered down by quarterly reporting requirements, and quickly abandoned as another shill.
I hope I’m wrong. But when these things get too big and homogenous, users typically run away.