Saturday, February 19, 2011
Twitter eats its young
Yesterday Twitter committed a hostile act against both its customers and one of its largest Twitter client developers, UberMedia. They cut off all of UberMedia's clients from the Twitter platform. Basically Twitter claims they did it because the UberMedia clients violated certain rules. These are rules that apparently UberMedia has been violating for almost a year, or perhaps longer.
What I find most interesting is trying to analyze what the hell Twitter was thinking. In an excellent blog post, Mark Suster lays out the basic fact that Twitter could have been perceived as the good guys by just putting out a 72 hour warning to both UberMedia, and users of UberMedia Twitter clients, that they were going to be cut off if things's weren't fixed. This would give UberMedia a chance to fix things, and it would give customers a chance not to wake up blindsided and Twitterless. The Twitter team is smart, so it's hard to imagine they didn't consider this as an option, which in an of itself gives me pause.
The apparent issues involved trademark, and a potential privacy leak around direct messages. I'm sure Twitter would argue that UberMedia was not responsive to previous requests or warnings and that they have a right, and in fact a responsibility, to defend their trademark and protect customer privacy.
But here's the thing. They have waited on these issues for a year, so no matter how egregious the failings of UberMedia are, a 72 hour warning wasn't going to hurt anyone.
In response to Suster's post, Dick Costlo, Twitter CEO tweeted "@msuster your post is a misinformed and contrary to what I'm certain you would counsel as an investor."
Costolo's response is, on its face, ridiculous. First, Suster was not misinformed because everything he commented on was in the public record except his opinions which are, of course, just opinions. Second, I can't imagine Fred Wilson or Bijan Sabet, both early Twitter investors and board members, suggesting to Dick Costolo that it would be in Twitter's interests to *surprise* millions of customers by turning off their Twitter client with no warning. I could be wrong because I am certainly not in their heads, but neither Fred nor Bijan strikes me as customer-hostile, take-no-prisoners, do-whatever-you-need-to-do regardless-of-how-it-impacts-customers type of people. I would be shocked to hear that this was done on behalf of the Twitter board of investors or that they would, if asked, have suggested this was a good idea.
What's obvious is that these actions are being taken because Twitter is threatened by UberMedia, and possibly pissed. UberMedia has been buying up Twitter clients like a hungry tourist binging at a Vegas buffet. They have just raised $17 million dollars, and its CEO Bill Gross essentially invented Internet advertising when he created Overture. So perhaps they *should* be threatened. Still once you operate as an ecosystem, you have a broader responsibility than just to maximize profit and kill all potential competition from your invited partners. Maximizing profit is obviously a critical goal, but screwing platform developers and customers for no ostensibly defensible reason in a clearly hostile way may not be good business (it's certainly not *decent* business), and it unquestionably gives people a reason to distrust you with what is now, like it or not, a shared asset.
In many ways this reminds me of this week's ridiculous Apple policy change requiring that Apple get 30% of platform subscription revenue of 3rd party developers. Twitter clearly felt they could get away with this and so they did. It was a very Machiavellian, and I think poorly thought out move. But this is not a decision I think they would have or could have made three years ago. Similarly, Apple would not have been trying to take 30% of subscription revenue when they launched their developer platform. They feel they can now because they think they have all the tigers by their tails.
Perhaps Dave McClure said it best when he commented (on twitter) "yo @dickc -- guess Twitter won't be following that Google "Don't Be Evil" thing, eh? ;). " The dickc there is Dick Costolo. And that does about sum it up. It is hard to be a platform vendor and not end up occasionally on the dark side. There are a lot of interests to balance. But *damn* does it have to be so knee jerk, and blatantly obvious. If not for the benefit of the platform, at least in the interest of not decimating heretofore well curated trust in you as the keeper of said platform.
Posted by Hank Williams at 7:36 AM