Twitter Should Be A Public Utility

Foreword: This post is a reaction to Dick Costolo stepping down from Twitter. And since the trendy thing to write about these days is Twitter, I penned down my thoughts. This is my gut feeling about Twitter. Disclaimer: I could be completely wrong about Twitter, and only time will tell about where it is going, and what Twitter means for the web.

Like many others, my punditry is based on wild speculation about Twitter's future, with no hard facts in place to backup my opinions about Twitter's future. All I can really say with certainty is that Twitter is a great product and so entrenched in the workings of the web that I honestly can not imagine the web without Twitter. In some sense, Twitter is like plumbing for the web, and is part of the web's infrastructure, and I wonder if Twitter was meant to be web infrastructure instead of a web product. The web needed a microblogging API and Twitter filled the gap, meaning Twitter was really just an attempt to better the web, not better the bank accounts of investors.

Twitter has a history

In terms of Twitter's future, I think the consensus is that Twitter has a developer problem. I spoke previously about the product being brilliant, but the real problem is related to their API. It seems like a blanket solution to their problem: "Fix the API problem and you fix Twitter". But remember, when we are referring to 'API' we are in fact referring to the product itself. There are countless issues still not even addressed in Twitter's developer ecosystem, that it is not clear whether Twitter ever took their developers seriously. It is clear that Twitter addressed some old (user) issues holding it back, like user on-boarding, cleaning up the timeline with 'while you were away', and improving the direct message (DM) system, but they overlook their developers repeatedly. Remember, Twitter has a sour history with developers.

Are we plumbing yet?

There were some issues with developers in the past related to the API, and apparently Twitter upset a lot of developers and destroyed the efforts of many. Their API is looking a lot better with things such as Fabric, and has assuaged many developers with that, but I think Twitter is missing a real opportunity with developers that they seem to have missed repeatedly over the years: That Twitter is infrastructure. That Twitter is plumbing. That developers are their most valuable users, and that Twitter needs an ecosystem of apps with some level of ownership by developers. Twitter was at least for me, always a geek toy. I since gave up developing apps on Twitter, and joined app.net instead. I am aware of things such as Twitter Fabric (their new API), but I really wonder if I should be investing my time in Fabric. Does Twitter know how much I want to build apps on top of their API? Are they aware (even at a very basic level) that the Web 2.0 dream of a mashable web is still possible?

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