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Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

Twitter: Please Reconsider the Platform vs. Product Decision

I refer to IETF RFC 821, by the late Jonathan B. Postel.

“The objective of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is to transfer mail reliably and efficiently.”

And I refer to a post on Twitter’s blog on May 24, 2010: The Twitter Platform ().

In this post, Twitter was described as not just a social means of textual communication, but as a carrying protocol for information, much in the same way that SMTP was and is.

“To foster this real-time open information platform, we provide a short-format publish/subscribe network and access points to that network such as www.twitter.com, m.twitter.com and several Twitter-branded mobile clients for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices.”

The API’s for annotations alone let Tweets operate in a manner internally referred to as “Dark Twitter,” where Twitter was a payload mechanism for machine to machine communication rather than a person-read communications mechanism. This by extension lead a lot of people to dream of uses for Twitter as a protocol for not only person to person communication, but the Dark Twitter use case of machine to machine communication. And imagine further if this protocol was ratified as an IEFT standard what could be done. A distributed publish/subscribe messaging platform boosted by a social graph.

I know I was excited about this, and by the resultant blog traffic around this post, so was the world.

It did not come to pass. Twitter went through a talent change over and product pivot which resulted in what we have today: Twitter as a media relay system and a loosely bound social network.

The problem is: Twitter doesn’t have as much value — to me — in the long run operating this way.

Twitter to me fills a variety of roles:

  • RSS
  • One to one messaging
  • Conversations
  • Information discovery

Each of these it does to various degrees of quality. i.e., Direct Messaging is problematic. However each of these functions has a corollary either in IETF protocols (SMTP, XMPP or HTTP), or auxiliary protocols (RSS).

And it serves each of these well, albeit in a bolt-on way that is not necessarily platform endemic. Links counting toward character counts, forced URL shortening, etc.

Payloads, annotations and Dark-Twitter were meant to fix some of these deficiencies, but it seems that Twitter as a Platform is not what the company wanted. I think the bigger problem though is that this what the company is best at. Right now we kludge this functionality into the Twitter they want us to use, in order to make the Twitter we actually want.

That is unfortunate.

I think given the inverted position Twitter sits in within its ecosystem  compared to Facebook (meaning a one to many relay vs one to one), it serves a greater good, and a greater goal when the company finally comes to grips with the fact that they are better as an enabler for others rather than the end point of what they view their technology should enable.

Or put more simply: Twitter is more than Twitter, and Twitter the company is, to me at least, not the best at making products that surface the good and great that Twitter is and could be. Others do it better, and have to work around a broader macro product decision from Twitter to make things work the way they feel they should within their own products.

“Platforms evolve. When Annotations ship, there are going to be many new business opportunities on the Twitter platform in addition to those currently available. We know that companies and entrepreneurs will create things with Annotations that we couldn’t have imagined. Companies will emerge that provide all manner of rich data and meta-data services around and in Tweets. Twitter clients could begin to differentiate on their ability to service different data-rich verticals like Finance or Entertainment. Media companies in the ecosystem can begin to incorporate rich tagging capabilities. Much has been written about the opportunities afforded by Annotations because those that understand the benefits of extensible architectures understand their power and potential.”

“When annotation ships” would have been an amazing day.

I love Twitter as a platform, and I admire them greatly as a company and as executives. But I really hope that one day they wake up, go back to May 24, 2010 and revisit and relive the last day I was truly excited about a product decision they made.

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One Response

  1. I wholeheartedly agree

    Whatever happened to Twitter Annotations?
    http://sqlblog.com/blogs/jamie_thomson/archive/2012/01/25/whatever-happened-to-twitter-annotations.aspx

    I would love to see Twitter annotations make a comeback, sadly I don’t think they ever will.

    JT