July 20 2012

Why I’m backing App.net

Like many long-time Twitter users, I’m deeply concerned by the imminent (but as yet unconfirmed) threat to third-party developers who make use of the Twitter API. Twitter has evolved a great deal since its inception, but it would be wrong not to give credit to the ingenuity of third-parties who have helped make the service what it is today. Just to give a few examples:

The rationale for Twitter’s presumed cutting off third-parties is ostensibly about delivering a consistent experience, but the unspoken motive is financial: to ensure that advertising can’t be bypassed by a third-party client. But there is a problem here, predicated on an assertion Michael Wolff makes in his fascinating article ‘The Facebook Fallacy’; that advertisers are seeing reduced returns on their investment, with the net result that the value of online advertising is decreasing. To an extent, technological innovation and clever targeting can offset some of that decrease, but the endgame should be clear to all: that either the same amount of advertising will yield less revenue, or the amount of advertising will have to increase. The outcome of this battle is beginning to sound increasingly user-hostile.

I believe Twitter is one of the most important social inventions of the 21st century, and has tremendous power. That moment of realisation came for me first when Flight 1549 crash-landed in New York’s Hudson River, and was photographed by an iPhone user, shared via TwitPic. That photo was seen all around the world within hours, but wasn’t on the front page of newspapers until the following day. I later saw how it could be commercially invaluable when I was contacted directly by Etymotic Research after mentioning on Twitter that my earphones had broken, and they offered to replace them. All around the world companies now employ ‘social media’ staff, whose role is now effectively proactive customer service.

This usefulness is at risk if Twitter transforms into a vehicle for focused advertising, and I don’t want to see that happen. I’d rather see Twitter die and something else take its place, in fact. Luckily it seems I’m not the only one who feels strongly about this, and so I’m happy to contribute towards an effort to build something that can serve the same (if not a better) purpose, that won’t be beholden to advertisers. And if you are remotely as passionate about this as I am, then I urge you to pledge to contribute too.