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An Open Letter to Twitter Developers

All of your users are ultimately Twitter’s users as well. However, they choose to use your applications for various reasons from preferring your user experience over Twitter’s own to features you offer that can’t be found elsewhere to not having other options on their desired handset/OS/language. In many cases they have voted with their wallets, preferring to purchase your app or pay for your monthly service over using Twitter’s free apps and services. Yes, paying customers expect support, but they are also less likely to move on to something else and lose their investment in money and time.

This puts every app developer in the drivers seat, in control over how their users perceive and cope with these impending changes. Ultimately it’s going to be Twitter who many, if not most, blame for not being able to use Twitter with their chosen client. Whether it’s just a small set of features or Twitter altogether depending on what the real meaning behind the ambiguous official statements, users will be affected, users will be angry, users will need support and users will point the finger. In addition many do not fully understand the difference between third-party apps and Twitter itself. With the way Twitter has touted their developer community for years, then poached from them, who can blame them?

Users downloaded, signed up for or purchased your app and have used it for a some time. When these permissions changes go live, suddenly they won’t be able to anymore or at the very least may have to go through the re-auth process. There isn’t a way for Twitter to spin this as not being mostly their fault, if we the app developers educate our customers properly. If you make a quality app or service and have a happy customer base, they should have no reason to doubt you’ve done all you can to make this as smooth as possible for them despite this being quickly forced on all (developers and Twitter users both) by big T. In the case of iPhone apps, we have no control over how soon Apple decides to approve an app update and push it to the App Store. Not to mention embedded applications, with possibly no update path.

Further it’s going to be more of a nightmare for Twitter if they grandfather’s their own apps and don’t force these users to go through the same re-authorization web flow along with all third-party clients. Trust your users to see through the transparency of Twitter’s policy changes if they take this stance. Telling developers “Do as I say and not as I do” disqualifies them as an “open system.” It becomes a proprietary system with Twitter still allowing third-party apps developers access (for now).

Provide support to your users the best you can, be transparent and clear in the explanations and fewer will point the finger primarily in your direction.

Now is the perfect time for a truly open competitor, seeking true innovation for the greater user experience (not just to poach) to make a move. An open system supported in part by each of the major client makers could modify their apps sufficiently to speak Twitter API where necessary and a new Open Tweet API similar to the way many client’s allow users to connect to Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and others in addition to Twitter. We’ve certainly seen this in the past with third-party instant message software which evolved to support AIM, YIM and MSN all at the same time.

Developers, if you want to be heard provide your views in the comments below and let’s stop complaining about being treated as “less-than” by Twitter and do something about it. Twitter says there are 600,000 of us, working on 900,000 apps. Our users are nearly fifty percent of Twitter’s overall user number and definitely a larger portion of their educated and active ones. If we can work together we can stop whining about it and get something real accomplished.

If you want control over your own destiny this is the only way to get out from under Twitter’s once benevolent, now bordering on schizophrenic dictatorship.

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