Dumb Web Idea #1: Building a business around Twitter

The Web is a precarious beast, a fact that we are reminded of on an almost daily basis. Even with all the pitfalls that face us we continue to build new and interesting businesses on top of what amounts to a shaky infrastructure. The problem is that these businesses that are trying to find their way in a landscape that can change almost day to day are also being used as foundations to build other businesses.

Using things like APIs and HTTP calls they attempt to build businesses held together with nothing more than what amounts to watered down cement. Which results in a building where not even the sturdiest of API rebar can hold them together should the very foundation come under attack or just disappear.

The current poster child of this API wonderland of spawned business has to be Twitter with its incredibly rich ecosphere of developers and business ideas – some good and some just down-right stupid. What they all have in common though is a total reliance on a service that has a questionable foundation.

A good example of this quicksand of a foundation could be seen in the recent DDoS attack that it along with other social media service suffered that affected not only Twitter but just about every service that has been built around Twitter as their base of a business model. This is a ripple effect that is still causing repercussion and yet more businesses plan on firming ties with Twitter even more. While developers of these parasite services may have been crying the blues over what happened during the DDoS I have no sympathy for them.

While the advent of open API can be looked upon as one the great things that has happened for the web it has also lead to a belief that viable businesses can be built on top of other businesses merely by mashing up the available APIs. This is a mistake and one I have written about before

As much as we the users might like what these API’s bring us thanks to smart developers it could prove to be a real Achilles heel for the web services that supply them.

Not only are they an Achilles heel for those API snap on businesses they are also one for the business providing those APIs. This is because of the very fragility of the web and the transparency of it that leads to attacks like the one just past that caused nothing but grief for Twitter and other social media services that were targeted as well.

This outside danger isn’t the only one that third party developers hoping for a sustainable business built on services like Twitter have to worry about either. In fact those outside attacks are really a minor thorn in their side as the biggest problem these developers face over a long period of time is from the very companies that they are building on top of.

More than once Twitter has proven that third party developers are the least of their concerns and they are more than willing to cut developers off at the knees if Twitter feels they need to. As I pointed out in April, 2009, when Twitter was cutting back parts of its services for various reasons

This action prompted an immediate reaction by Jesse Stay, the person behind the SocialToo service, where he said on Twitter (via Friendfeed)

“WTF @ ev and @ biz! You could have responded to my e-mail I sent to you first. You just killed what was feeding my family: ”

First let me echo the sediments of Allen Stern from CenterNetworks when he says

I know it’s easy to build on top of Twitter or a quickie iPhone app, but do these “on top” services have staying power and real business potential? Before you say yes, now think about if Twitter or iPhone makes a change that alters the app’s ability to continue.

Unfortunately these types of events and behavior hasn’t slowed down the growth of companies hoping to ride the Twitter gravy train on the hope and prayer that this shaky house of cards would collapse or burnout. Much like the case of Nick Halstead who announced that his company is closing down its original web business, Favorit, and throwing his full weight behind a Favorit spin-off company called Tweetmeme.

The reason from what he told Louis Gray is this:

Second, Nick felt RSS was “dead for the mainstream market” later in 2008, and third, and likely most impactful, his follow-on project, TweetMeme took off like wildfire, riding the bullet train that is Twitter.

So rather than try to refocus a company of trying to find a unique way to deal with an established Web protocol that isn’t going anywhere, which is in fact the very root of just about every web service out there today, Nick decided to hitch up to Twitter – an unproven business with no apparent business model that could see it survive past the VC IV money drip that keeps it alive.

I sure hope this is one house of cards that doesn’t come tumbling down but with every new card that is added to it the repercussions should it collapse wouldn’t be a pretty site.

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