Twitter once more playing with the future of developers

One of the constants that has been with Twitter since day one has been its hands off approach towards the service as it is presented to the users at the Twitter home page. They have let a rich and vibrant 3rd party developer ecosphere build up around the service as they have given the impression more than once that they aren’t interested in expanding beyond the simple interface as found at the Twitter homepage.

As a result we have seen a number of desktop and smartphone clients rise to the surface that have continually added features and improved the user interface experience. That hands off approach however looks like it could be changing and this should make developers who are trying to hook their wagon to Twitter a little nervous. I have written about his in the past but in light of recent moves by Twitter it bears repeating – Twitter is no friend to developers.

The one area that developers might have thought themselves fairly secure had to be developing clients for smartphones like the iPhone but if what Martin Bryant at The Next Web has found out not even that may be as safe as it seems.

In a post yesterday Martin reports on how Jesse Stay, developer behind Social Too, may have spotted what looks like a native Twitter app for the iPhone:

With the new geolocation feature being tested internally and the new version of Seesmic Desktop featuring the ability to read location from tweets that use it, how is Twitter generating location tags for its test tweets? From the looks of the screenshots Stay has uncovered, by using a secret iPhone app.

Now, we’re not suggesting that Twitter is about annoy its third party developer community by launching its own iPhone app. Given its bare-bones look this is probably noting more than a test app for adding geolocation data to tweets.

Now Martin may be being overly kind by suggesting that Twitter doesn’t want to step on any toes but I doubt it very much. We have already seen many times over just how Twitter feels about developers of clients for its service.

Things like turning off Twitter services without any notification to developers leaving them to scramble and deal with irate users. Or, cutting back on the number of API calls clients can make – again without any notification to the developers.

Twitter makes decisions about features they want to add that are for the most part re-interpretations of user developed features that developers have taken and added to their clients. Yet Twitter decides heavy handedly and without any apparent conversation with developers who actually deal with the people using the service change the ideas to what they think is best.

We have seen this with the @reply and most recently with retweeting. and as noted by Rob Diana on his blog Twitter is now trying to add features that will make their home page a better destination by showing you new message notifications.

I understand why Twitter is wanting to do things like this and it all boils down to pageviews. As it stands right now Twitter is probably only seeing half – or less – of the traffic on their home page because of all of the third party clients out there. They need to do something to increase their pageviews in order to even think about living up to their outrageous valuation.

This means that have to get people either using native Twitter client(s) and/or using the Twitter homepage. This is a situation that isn’t going to get any better either as pressure mounts, as it will, for Twitter to be able to find some business revenue that will justify their valuation.

In the end this doesn’t bode well for all those developers out there whether they be web based, desktop based or smartphone based – especially those without any business models of their own other than feeding off of Twitter.

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