So, I’ve had a few thoughts rattling around since Twitter announced their idiotic new API restrictions1. I was going to post this as a series of tweets, but the conceit was more attractive in my head than on the page.
As I see it, the real mistake Twitter is making here has less to do with the bruised egos of the nerderatti and much more to do with the fact that they haven’t locked down the engagement of the “average” users anywhere near as much as they seem to think they have. My sense is that the vast mass of Twitter users actually engage very shallowly with the service. By this I mean that these users’ Twitter experience mainly consists of occasionally posting a tweet when they remember to and following celebrities, similarly loosely engaged friends and a few news sources. It ultimately doesn’t matter whether these uses “leave” Twitter or not, as they were never engaged enough to become a solid audience in our new, ad-supported, future.
As an aside, I know there are a few other non-nerd, high-engagement Twitter constituencies. Two that spring to mind are political and news junkies. My prediction is the politicos will decamp to Facebook and the comments areas of the various high-profile political blogs from whence they came. As for the newsies, a smart person looking to “disrupt” something would be looking at a micro-blog platform aimed at the news outlets.
The very real danger that Twitter faces as they trundle down this road of idiocy is becoming a ghetto of unused accounts, spam/scammers, self-promoters and z-list celebrities. Honestly, the company being served a golden opportunity here is not App.net, but rather Facebook — which is ironic since the ghetto I just described was modeled on MySpace. If Facebook could figure out how to do asynchronous following/sharing in a non-sucky way and opened a decent API to 3rd parties they could really clean up.
As for App.net. I wish them all the success in the world — I honestly do. Unfortunately, I just don’t see them “replacing” Twitter in the sense that some of their more fevered boosters seem to. Bullshit arguments about class and race aside, the price tag is going to be a real barrier to entry for “the masses”. Not that I’m saying the service is expensive — even at the current $50.00 price tag2. But bear in mind that many people throw a fit over a $1.99 one time charge for an iOS app. I understand App.net’s rational, but any price for a service that essentially mimics a “free” one is going to kill mass adoption.
And perhaps that’s fine. There is certainly a strong sense of “escape from the unwashed masses” coming from many of App.net’s supporters. Maybe the service can thrive as a refuge for the nerds. Certainly Apple has proven that pure market-share is not the end-all & be-all when it comes to success.
Ultimately, Twitter stands at a crossroads. While the changes announced yesterday won’t do a thing to discourage the great mass of users to abandon the service they do signal that Twitter has decided to persue revenue at any cost. Losing John Gruber ultimately won’t harm Twitter but imagine a future change that scares off Oprah. If that should happen — well, last one out turn off the lights.