I love Twitter. I’m coming up on six years using the service, and there are few other Internet services I’ve used as much these past six years.
If you’re in the tech industry, there has been a lot of gnashing of teeth about changes Twitter is making to its API. A lot of folks see this as a bunch of techie-geeky inside baseball, that these are changes that only affect developers (and not real people who use the service), and for the most part they’re probably right.
But Twitter has thrived in large part because it has built an ecosystem. One where lots of people were encouraged to build cool tools on top of Twitter, tools that allow us to use, and interact with, Twitter in ways that best fit our needs.
And ecosystems, whether natural or technical, are extremely fragile. One small, seemingly inconsequential change can ripple outward to produce unintended consequences and devastating damage.
For example, you or I may not care about Tweetbot (an iPhone Twitter client beloved by many); but people I follow on Twitter do care about it. A lot. And, if changes Twitter is making to its API put Tweetbot out of commission, the people I follow on Twitter might not post as much. Because they don’t want to be forced into using a tool they don’t like. And that will make Twitter less valuable, perhaps, for me.
Today a rumor has swept through Twitter (of course) that the Twitter is killing off its Mac desktop client. It’s just a rumor. But this is the Twitter client I use more than any other. And without it, I’ll use Twitter less. I know this for a fact — my usage of Twitter has steadily increased with the availability of good (and sometimes great) desktop clients starting with Twitterific.
In the past, Twitter killing off its Mac client would have been a bummer, but not fatal. Some smart third party developer would have stepped in and filled the gap. And, indeed, this is what happened on the Mac and iPhone until Twitter acquired Tweetie (which in turn became the basis for all of its official iOS and Mac apps). But with the API changes they’ve just announced, they’ve made clear you’d be a fool to step in now to build a Mac client for Twitter.
And so then what? As Om Malik jokingly tweeted this afternoon, “so what are we supposed to use? their website?” I’ve never particularly liked or used the Twitter web site and I’ll use Twitter much less if I’m someday forced into that.
I’m just a small, inconsequential part of Twitter, one little user out of hundreds of millions. Twitter doesn’t care about me, and it won’t matter to Twitter if I use the service less.
But these seemingly small and trivial changes might cause others to use the service less, too. And it all starts to add up. The rots sets in, things start to die off, and before you know it you’re looking at a dry and dusty land.