Twitter’s a business first, a social platform second

The background
UberTwitter was cut off from Twitter’s information pipeline yesterday and it impacted many users. There were three key violations of Twitter’s terms of service by UberMedia, all of which have now been corrected. But the disconnect was a clear message to partner companies and end users alike, Twitter will enforce the rules it setup to protect the quality of it’s user experience on or off site. According to Loic Le Meur, who’s intimately familiar with the social web landscape, UberMedia is responsible for the interface to 20% of all tweets sent daily so it’s a competitor to social news distribution, albeit a dependent one.

Why Twitter was UberWrong to punish UberTwitter the way it did. They effed the users. That's not right http://qr.ae/wfmi
@msuster
Mark Suster

@msuster your post is a misinformed and contrary to what I'm certain you would counsel as an investor.
@dickc
dick costolo

I regard the business strategies of a few people very highly* and among them is Mark Suster. I’ve quoted the heart of Mark’s reaction to being cut off from Twitter on his favorite client (he’s an info addict like myself):

Here’s the thing. I’m a user of UberTwitter. I use it because it was the best mobile client in the market for Blackberry devices. And you shut them down today. You’ll be fine. People will stick around. You’re the king. But nobody really likes monarchies, except in a British sort of ceremonial way.

I don’t advise you. But if I did here’s what I would have said:

Issue them a public warning. Put it in the press. Tell the users that there’s a chance the service might get cut off. Hell, even cable operators do that when they have disputes with networks. Let the public see you as the good guy. If you shut off the network you screw your users, like me.

And if you want to win the client war, do it by creating a better mobile client. It’s hard to see how you don’t win if you do that.

Oh, and I probably would have added:

If you want to cut off a potential competitor at the knees and say it was over policy & security violations, try not to launch a promoted Tweet saying #TwitterMobile trying to convert users to your client that exact same day. The coincidence will be lost on people.

As Twitter grows up as a business, it needs to safe guard the quality of it’s service and any monetization that can be derived from that service. I expect we’ll see Twitter flex it’s central authority on occasion to remind client companies that they still need to adhere to Twitter’s standards. What I take away from exchanges like the above between companies, is that people’s needs come second to business interests. If we as a web community want an absolutely reliable social news and information sharing network, it can’t be controlled by one fire hose. It’s inevitable that several intercommunicating social technology layers will grow to disrupt central social network authorities, but it’s not clear what standards they will adopt. I’m betting on Ostatus^.

Notes:
*= I have a short list for the business strategy folks I respect and enjoy reading: Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon, Seth Godin, Mark Suster and a handful of super sharp startup friends.

^ =

OStatus lets people on different social networks follow each other.

OStatus is an open standard for distributed status updates. Our goal is a specification that allows different messaging hubs to route status updates between users in near-real-time.

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  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Users will forgive Twitter & forget what happened over time. What worries me more is the ecosystem. How many “would be” Twitter partners won’t be started now? As a VC I know that I won’t fund them.

  • http://about.me/markbirch Mark Birch

    Like I said in one of my early posts, sometimes we get caught up in the “it’s a start-up and we should all get along” meme. Problem is that you have to also run a business and be responsible to investors/owners. That means taking tough stands that run counter to the idea that everyone must play nicely in the sandbox.

    Ultimately, I agree with Twitter’s decision and saw this coming last year when the whole link shorter controversy started. They need to run a business and will do whatever it takes to ensure the quality of their brand and the safety of their network. That said, Mark Suster had a good point about the way you go about making such a move, which was ugly and confused a whole lot of people.

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  • http://vocal.ly sull

    “As a VC I know that I won’t fund them”

    And that is part of the -win- for Twitter, Inc.
    They are taming the monster that they had to create (Open API Developer Ecosystem).

  • http://www.victusspiritus.com/ Mark Essel

    I wonder if this is how the electric company started out. Power plants and third party distributors bickering about the standards. Lights going on and off until they worked it out. Is Twitter’s trajectory the electric company or cablevision?

  • http://businessmindhacks.com AlexSchleber

    Exactly right. The “it’s just business” argument doesn’t cut it for me. This is simply bad business!

    This appears to have been particularly poorly handled by Twitter, ironically at the same moment as the world has been watching with baited breath how dictatorships in the Middle East have been crumbling, and in turn have been/are responding with shutting down Internet access and access to services used for organizing such as Twitter itself.

    At a time when some of the Twitter founders are making the rounds in media proclaiming Twitter to be a tool for freedom… Can you say PR #fail?!

    Maybe it is time for Google to finally buy them, so that this near obsession over monetization, which appears to spawn nothing but bad ideas and Orwellian mis-steps, can finally stop. Nothing wrong with monetization of course, but they just appear to be doing it wrong…

    It reminds me a bit of the scene in The Social Network where Zuck says ~ “we have something cool here…don’t muck it up”…

    Even socially challenged Google would likely be smart enough to mostly leave the Twitter ecosystem be, and be happy with the social data, and other things on the margins for it’s own purposes.

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