If Twitter Can Deliver Transparency Around API Access and Business Model, They Might Be Able To Find Their Way Again
22 Oct 2015
It has been a year or two since I've given any deep thought to the Twitter ecosystem. There has been such little meaningful action to come out of the social platform over the last couple years, I had all but given up on it being a platform with any sort of future for developers.
When Jack Dorsey apologized and solicited feedback from the community this week, I honestly felt I didn't have much to offer when it comes to advice--I just wasn't prepared. Twitter does almost everything right when it comes to their developer ecosystem...well on the surface, where they do fail, is within the most critical areas of API operations:
- Communication - Twitter communicates about the usual mundane API platform stuff, but really lacks a tone and substance that really cuts through the BS for developers. In my opinion it will take years to recover from the tone set by Dick Costolo & Ryan Sarver--they just did not respect developers at all, and it showed. This isn't something you recover from quickly.
- Access & Rate Limits - While communications around access level and rate limits have gotten much more clearer, with a dedicated area in dev portal, and available inline within documentation, it will take going the extra mile before developers feel like there is truly a level playing field. It will require more API access to account level usage, notifications, dashboards, etc. to heal these wounds--real-time communication.
- Business Model - There is just no clear business model evident from the developer ecosystem--something that showcases how Twitter is making money, where the API fits into this, and the opportunity for developers to play in this game. I've broken down the pricing confusion involved with using the REST API, and Streaming API, and tried to understand across the different levels of access--even though my research is dated, the confusion still exists. There is no clarity when it comes to how I can grow my usage of Twitter (as a startup), therefore many resort to very bad behavior to make ends meet.
- Personality - There is no personality or face to the Twitter platform, thus it always defaults up the chain to current CEO. Maybe a new director of platform came on after Ryan Sarver left, but I couldn't tell you who it was. The platform needs a leader who will set the same tone Jack Dorsey is trying to set by returning to the CEO Position--Twitter needs a Jack who is specifically in charge of the platform vision, message, and will be the friendly face of the platform turnaround.
The lack of communication, overall tone, and lack of transparency and clarity around access, rate limits, and the business model has just left a bad taste in the mouths of Twitter developers. I use the Twitter API actively as part of my business, but I would never consider building a new product that depends on the Twitter API--never, and I know many other developers feel the same.
I've long moved on from my utopian views of what the Twitter API could have been, there are too many powerful actors who are investors, and partners now for this ever to be a reality. I do not think Twitter should entertain and do business with ALL 3rd party developers, and eliminate rate limits--I am more experienced in API operations than this. However Twitter has to provide a clear ladder that developers can climb when it comes to accessing the API, ascending all the way up to partner levels, with transparency all along the way.
Twitter has to be communicating with the community at every step, and honestly the community needs to get better at communicating with Twitter as well. I respect the challenge that Twitter has when it comes to managing a million developers, and know these things are not easy, and it makes me happy to see Jack taking a clear stance, and reach out to the community for feedback.
As Jack Dorsey said, transparency is the key. Transparency around API access, rate limits, the road-map, business model, partner and developer revenue opportunities, will be critical going forward. It makes me happy to see language like "Developer Rules of the Road" finally gone from the legal side of platform operations--it was language like this that set a really bad tone for developers. I really hope Twitter can turn this corner, and reboot its ecosystem, as the platform plays a critical role in almost every industry, and in my opinion is the most important API out there today. i would really like to be able to showcase Twitter as a platform that all API providers should emulate once again.