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consistency and ecosystem opportunities

@rsarver Mar 11, 2011 12:18 PM
Posted in group: Twitter Development Talk
Hey all, I’d like to give you an update about the state of the Twitter Platform and hopefully provide some much requested guidance.

Since this time last year, Twitter use has skyrocketed.  We’ve grown from 48 million to 140 million tweets a day and we’re registering new accounts at an all-time record.  This massive base of users, publishers, and businesses is a giant playground for developers to build their own businesses on, and this means the opportunity has grown for everyone.

With more people joining Twitter and accessing the service in multiple ways, a consistent user experience is more crucial than ever.  As we talked about last April, this was our motivation for buying Tweetie and developing our own official iPhone app.  It is the reason why we have developed official apps for the Mac, iPad, Android and Windows Phone, and worked with RIM on their Twitter for Blackberry app. As a result, the top five ways that people access Twitter are official Twitter apps.

Still, our user research shows that consumers continue to be confused by the different ways that a fractured landscape of third-party Twitter clients display tweets and let users interact with core Twitter functions.  For example, people get confused by websites or clients that display tweets in a way that doesn’t follow our design guidelines, or when services put their own verbs on tweets instead of the ones used on Twitter.  Similarly, a number of third-party consumer clients use their own versions of suggested users, trends, and other data streams, confusing users in our network even more.  Users should be able to view, retweet, and reply to @nytimes’ tweets the same way; see the same profile information about @whitehouse; and be able to join in the discussion around the same trending topics as everyone else across Twitter.

A Consistent User Experience
Twitter is a network, and its network effects are driven by users seeing and contributing to the network’s conversations.  We need to ensure users can interact with Twitter the same way everywhere.  Specifically:
 - The mainstream consumer client experience.  Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience on phones, computers, and other devices by which millions of people access Twitter content (tweets, trends, profiles, etc.), and send tweets.  If there are too many ways to use Twitter that are inconsistent with one another, we risk diffusing the user experience.  In addition, a number of client applications have repeatedly violated Twitter’s Terms of Service, including our user privacy policy.  This demonstrates the risks associated with outsourcing the Twitter user experience to third parties.  Twitter has to revoke literally hundreds of API tokens / apps a week as part of our trust and safety efforts, in order to protect the user experience on our platform.
 - Display of tweets in 3rd-party services. We need to ensure that tweets, and tweet actions, are rendered in a consistent way so that people have the same experience with tweets no matter where they are.   For example, some developers display “comment”, “like”, or other terms with tweets instead of  “follow, favorite, retweet, reply” - thus changing the core functions of a tweet.

With this in mind, we’ve updated our Terms of Service:

The Opportunity for Developers
Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter.  More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience.  The answer is no.

If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service.  We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained.  

As we point out above, we need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way.  This is already happening organically - the number and market share of consumer client apps that are not owned or operated by Twitter has been shrinking.  According to our data, 90% of active Twitter users use official Twitter apps on a monthly basis.

In contrast, the number of successful applications and companies in the Twitter ecosystem that focus on areas outside of the mainstream consumer client experience has grown quickly, and this is a trend we want to continue to support and help grow.  Twitter will always be a platform on which a smart developer with a great idea and some cool technology can build a great company of his or her own.  And, with record user growth, there has never been a better time to build into Twitter.  

Some key areas where ecosystem developers are thriving:
 - Publisher tools.  Companies such as SocialFlow help publishers optimize how they use Twitter, leading to increased user engagement and the production of the right tweet at the right time. 
 - Curation.  Mass Relevance and Sulia provide services for large media brands to select, display, and stream the most interesting and relevant tweets for a breaking news story, topic or event.  
 - Realtime data signals.  Hundreds of companies use real-time Twitter data as an input into ranking, ad targeting, or other aspects of enhancing their own core products.  Klout is an example of a company which has taken this to the next level by using Twitter data to generate reputation scores for individuals.  Similarly, Gnip syndicates Twitter data for licensing by third parties who want to use our real-time corpus for numerous applications (everything from hedge funds to ranking scores).  
 - Social CRM, entreprise clients, and brand insights.  Companies such as HootSuite, CoTweet, Radian6, Seesmic, and Crimson Hexagon help brands, enterprises, and media companies tap into the zeitgeist about their brands on Twitter, and manage relationships with their consumers using Twitter as a medium for interaction.
 - Value-added content and vertical experiences.  Emerging services like Formspring, Foursquare, Instagram, and Quora have built into Twitter by allowing users to share unique and valuable content to their followers, while, in exchange, the services get broader reach, user acquisition, and traffic.  

A lot of Twitter’s success is attributable to a diverse ecosystem of more than 750,000 registered apps.  We will continue to support this innovation.  We are excited to be working with our developer community to create a consistent and innovative experience for the many millions of users who have come to depend on Twitter every day.

As always, we welcome your feedback and questions.

Best, Ryan