Can #NewTwitter Swim Faster Than a Fail Whale?
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the Twitter website “as a means to enable outside developers to accomplish what the company, with its then-tiny and overburdened team, could not,” Payne writes. And a very good thing too—not only do we now have a marvelous array of tools that take advantage of Twitter, but the popularity of these tools kept Twitter itself alive and growing during that long, unfocused period when the company didn’t seem to be doing much innovating on its own.
Payne’s essay echoes my own feelings about the distinction between Twitter, the company, and Twitter, the service. In a nicely phrased sentence, he says “there’s an important difference between lowercase ‘t’ tweeting and uppercase ‘T’ Twitter, just as with democrat and Democrat.” Twitter may be a business, but tweeting is a medium—and over time, Payne says he argued to his colleagues inside Twitter, that medium should be decentralized, in the same way that long-distance telephony and instant messaging have been decentralized. Breaking up the Twitter infrastructure wouldn’t simply be the socially just thing to do, Payne reasons, but would make the system more reliable and more resistant to censorship and “the corrupting influences of capital and marketing.”
It’s probably not surprising that Payne lost this argument and left the company. Twitter needs to generate some kind of return on the $160 million it’s collected in venture financing. #NewTwitter and all of its features clearly represent a push to get Twitter users to spend more time at Twitter.com, which will mean more opportunities to show them ads and promotions. The Twitter site is growing into a “rich information discovery platform,” in Payne’s words, encouraging “the kind of deep exploration of the data within Twitter that has previously only been exposed in bits and pieces by third-party applications.”
But Twitter is late to its own party. Apps like Flipboard have exposed the data within Twitter, allowing exploration that’s even deeper (in Flipboard’s case) thanks to the fact that the app moves some of the stage mechanisms like tweets and URLs out of the way. And the third-party apps provide many important functions, such as URL shortening, that are still inexplicably missing from #NewTwitter. The rollout of #NewTwitter has brought Twitter some well-deserved buzz—but my bet is that as long as Twitter keeps its API open, professional third-party developers will create the greater volume and variety of Twitter apps, piloting the Twitter ship to new and exciting destinations. Perhaps Twitter should concentrate on keeping the engines running—and on shooing away the Fail Whale.
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