There has been a storm of sorts this past week surrounding Twitter, their developers, and the “ecosystem”. It started with some comments from VC Fred Wilson followed by comments from Twitter CEO Ev Williams in a New York Times interview, and culminating in Twitter buying Atebits and thereby creating an official iPhone app: Tweetie.
This has, of course, created quite a stir in the Twitter development community, with accusations that Twitter is “eating their young” and pushing third-party developers out of the market.
These recent events have really brought home for developers the risk that when building on top of someone else’s platform, they could decide to compete with you head-on. Of course we’ve seen this many times in the past, most notably with Microsoft, but also with Google, Cisco, and many others. Those seeking funding for Twitter mashups often struggle with this push-back from potential investors. Perhaps now, that will become even worse and it will be even harder to get funding for a Twitter-based product or service.
That’s not good news for Twitter. While their platform is popular, with a claimed 50,000 developers, it’s still relatively small, compared to Facebook with 500,000 or Apple’s 185,000 apps in the app store. Furthermore, both Facebook and Apple’s App Store have spawned lucrative breakouts like Zynga, Tapulous and PopCap, while Twitter’s ecosystem has yet to produce a similar hit in terms of revenue, to say nothing of profit. Even among the most popular Twitter apps with lots of users, there are plenty of companies burning cash, but few producing any.
So, is it time to drop the “twit” or “tweet” from your brand name and become less intricately linked and integrated with Twitter and the Twitter platform? Or is this a perfect time to show loyalty to Twitter in the hope that they reward you for that loyalty? To Twit, or not to Twit. That, is the question. What do you think?