Sorry, Twitter clients, but Twitter's just not that into you...

Sorry, Twitterrific, but Twitter's just not that into you...

The analogy came upon me while recording the iMore show this week -- Twitter's recent, ambiguous, ominous proclamations to developers feel to me like the tired old cliché of someone who works their ass off so their significant other can get through college and make something of themselves, only for that significant other to graduate and dump them for a hotter, richer, more glamorous life.

That's completely unfair, of course. Twitter has absolutely worked hard as well, listening to users, learning from Twitter apps, and fighting their way into mainstream success. But to think they did it alone is just as unfair. For almost every feature Twitter added, there's a user trend or developer innovation that helped it get there. For every celebrity who added to Twitter's public profile, there's a "via [third party Twitter app]" that helped that profile get made more public.

The Iconfactory's Twitterrific was one of the first jailbreak apps even before the app store, was one of the first iPhone apps when the App Store launched, and was one of the first iPad apps when the iPad launched. They came up with the term "tweet" for tweet's-sake, among many other things. Loren Brichter's Tweetie introduced pull-to-refresh (coming ubiquitously in iOS 6 and was so successful that Twitter bought it and made it the official Twitter for iOS and OS X client. Tapbots' Tweetbot pushed the state-of-the-art of Twitter apps through notifications, mute filters, and more.

And a generation of fervent users were brought along, and brought them along in return.

Twitter. Geeks. Developers. It took the virtuous harmony of all three to get Twitter to where it is today. Like a newly graduated significant other, or a successful music group, it took magic to make the moment. That's why it feels fundamentally unfair that when the most powerful member of a partnership or group, on achieving success, starts hinting that they'd rather be a solo act, or that they'd rather hang around in different circles. That they need space. That they need a break. It feels fundamentally unfair because everyone worked together based on the implicit promise of a better life, and yet when it looks like that better life is finally about to happen, it also looks like some of those who worked for it will get left behind.

Just as geeks are no longer the user base Twitter wants to attract, client developers are no longer the kind of developers Twitter wants to cultivate.

Whether it's better to have loved a platform -- like Twitter -- and lost, or never to have been able to love it at all -- like Facebook -- is debatable. In the moment, the loss of the service or apps that made for the experience you loved is too fresh and painful for it to matter.

Right now, Twitter feels like it wants to break up with Twitter apps and jettison that part of its past to faster embrace a more prosperous, more glamorous future. But the lack of clarity also makes it feel awkward, like any human coming out of a long term relationship -- conflicted and maybe even a little guilty.

Ideally Twitter would figure out a way to balance the good of their original user base and third party developers with their obligation to monetize their future.

There have been numerous suggestions in the past for everything from paid pro accounts for users, to in-timeline advertising. Rather than dicking around with trends and other, off-putting options, having Twitter own ads and letting developers charge for paid, alternative apps (that include those timeline ads).

Everyone gets the officially Twitter app for free, and those who want alternatives, be it in interface or feature set, can pay for those alternatives.

And because the interface is the app for users, if an alternative to Twitter's back end ever manifests -- as I mentioned in a previous column, social apps have been far more cyclical, historically, than operating systems -- those apps would be free to embrace alternative APIs.

Twitter has to grow and they have to make a business, but the past doesn't always have to be dumped for the future. Sometimes the past can be built on and made into a better, stronger future for everyone.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Sorry, Twitter clients, but Twitter's just not that into you...

9 Comments

I think it makes sense. The majority of people don't facebook really from something else besides the website, mobile website, or an app on their from from Facebook. I think Twitter just wants to make the best app for their users but they want it to come from them. Its a pride thing. They appreciate all the ideas.

Honestly what they should do is have (Idk if they do) make a developer site for twitter, and a way to submit ideas to twitter to make a specific twitter app (Phone, web, mac) better. Not shut them out.

If they ban apps like Tweetbot, i'm gone (or at least I won't contribute anymore)

I've already dealt with dumb changes at facebook and I deleted my account there.

i don't get this whole uproar honestly. I have tweetbot and it works fine. If they haven't banned any other apps yet this strikes me as alarmist before there's a fire. I'm not saying whom it concerns is completely wrong to be wary but honestly, i'm not one of those whoms.

I think Rene, you hit the nail on the head when you said, "Iphones weren't made for us geeks" or something to that effect. You echoed that here and in the podcast with "geeks are no longer the user base twitter wants to attract." Great. I say. I know that's probably sacrilige here but i'm only on mobilenations now cause my crappy Palm Pre made it necessary for me to join precentral to get it to work to a point i didn't throw it against a brick wall. Which i may still simply out of spite. If it had just worked like my iphone i'd have rarely posted like i rarely post in forums here. So big picture, i'm glad twitter is catering to me like Apple does.

I mean you don't check the trends, mentions, etc? I do all that stuff. I follow celebs, i tweet to a few and maybe get an ego stroke retweet, lol. i use it to catch breaking sports news. It does the job. I've had a twitter account for a while but only recently actively started using it for tweeting but i don't see a darn thing different. I read tweets i send tweets. It regular twitter app is ok even though i have and use tweetbot. Though i do agree the twitter layout is a bit weird. "Discover" what? What does that mean? speak normal twitter. But the things you are listing as problems don't affect me. The users that's neither a "geek" or "power user" or whatever. For the most part yeah twitter does exactly what it wants. I'm part of those masses and honestly, i want it to work for me more then you. Nothing personal lol. But hey i'm all for having it all and getting something that works for me and you. But to me it's not remotely a problem that these things go mainstream. I'm in the mainstream. I hope it doesn't change much. I hope you guys get what you want. I hope they don't piss off all the developers but honestly, so far it doesn't effect me. Anyways my two cents from the average guy non power user side of the fence.

Well you could also say similar of Apple. Jailbreak developers create tweaks for Apple devices. Apple likes them. Apple adopts them in next iOS version. Apple continues to take measures to make jail breaking your device harder.

If they had the features of tweetbot, maybe people would actually use their client. But let's face it. Tweetbot is the best client for twitter. Maybe if the can buy Tapbot, then they would have something on their hands. But for now I'm staying with Tweetbot.

i have no way of knowing but i wouldn't be surprised if a lot more people used the official free client then Tweetbot simply due to the fact that it's free.