Victus Spiritus


Twitter's a business first, a social platform second

19 Feb 2011

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.

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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^.

*= 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.