Fred Wilson has written a post about Twitter’s future, one that reads like a market analyst wrote it. The problem is, Fred is one of the original investors in Twitter, and sits on the board, so I have to wonder what this is all about. Is this Twitter policy? Did he pass this by the management there? Is he going public with this a week before the Twitter developer conference to prepare people for a big announcement? Is he attempting to influence policy by taking an argument public?
Fred Wilson, The Twitter Platform’s Inflection Point
Which brings me to the title of this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Twitter Platform and Ecosystem recently. I think it is at an inflection point, much like the desktop software and hardware business was in the mid 80s as the desktop platform started to mature.
Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product. It is the kind of work General Computer was doing in Cambridge in the early 80s. Some of the most popular third party services on Twitter are like that. Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.
When you talk to a new user, they want to know how to post a photo to Twitter, they want to know “what is this bit.ly thing?”, they want to know how to get Twitter on their iPhone. Names like Summize, Twitpic, Tweetie make no sense to them. Of course, without Summize, Twitpic, and Tweetie we would not have the Twitter we have today. They and many other third party products and services filled out the holes in the Twitter product and made it work better.
But those services don’t feel like Lotus or Aldus to me. What are the products and services that create something entirely new on top of Twitter? I’ll come back to that question, but one more history lesson, this one recent history.When Facebook platform launched, we saw a massive number of new products and services launched on The Facebook. But many were slight variations on existing Facebook features (like Superwall) or holes in the Facebook service. As Facebook closed up those holes and enhanced their own feature set, those apps fell to the wayside.
Note: Those Facebook apps that ‘fell by the wayside’ went out of business because Facebook decided to pull that functionality into the core platform. Is that what Twitter is going to do?
As one example, Twitter has rolled out its own URL shortener (http://twt.tl) which is being used in direct messages. Are they planning on replacing Bit.ly?
And then Fred goes on to suggest other areas that are likely to be hot for Twitter application development, presumably after Twitter fills the holes that other. earlier apps filled:
And because Twitter is so open and so lightweight, I am surprised that there aren’t more “new kinds of killer apps” to quote my friend who I started this post with.
Here’s are some places where I think we might see these killer apps emerge:
* Social Gaming - There have been a number of attempts to build social game experiences on Twitter. But I’m not aware of any successes of scale like we’ve had on the Facebook platform. I think we will see it emerge soon.
* Verticals - We have some successes to point to here like Stocktwits for finance and Flixup for movies but this is a wide open opportunity in most verticals and we haven’t seen as much effort here as I’d have expected.
* Enterprise - CoTweet comes to mind as well as the efforts that Salesforce has made to integrate Twitter. This is a huge opportunity.
* Analytics - While Twitter will obviously be delivering better analytics to its users, particularly its marketing and business users, I believe that there is always a market for third party analytics. Google Analytics is available for free and yet none of the large analytics providers have seen their businesses suffer. There is simply a voracious appetite for information on the Internet. So companies like bit.ly, Radian6, HubSpot, Scout Labs, and others have a bright future.
Again, I don’t know how to read this. Is Fred explaining what is to come? Is he trying to steer Twitter management? No matter what, he is not some dispassionate Twitter user wondering about what might come.
[Disclosure: I am an advisor to Bit.ly and I have a financial interest in the company’s future.]
Update on Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:24PM
Nick Carlson came to the same conclusions I did.
Update on Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:30PM
Nick Carlson has more:
Responding to our post, Fred back-tracked, commenting, “that post was my work, not Twitter’s work. While i am on the board of twitter, I don’t work there and I don’t speak for them.”
But Twitter’s third-party developers don’t buy it.
One industry source nicely summarized what many others told us they were thinking, telling us, “Fred is lying to you. Twitter was aware of his plans. This was intentional to soften the blow later and provide advance notice.”
One big reason for all the skepticism? Yesterday, plenty of Twitter employees were cheer-leading Fred’s post.
Doug Williams, who helps run Twitter’s platform, tweeted, “Incredibly timely @fredwilson piece that all Twitter developers should read http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/04/the-twitter-platform.html.”
A follower of Josh’s replied to that tweet, “I would be terrified reading Fred’s post if I was a hole filler startup. Thanks but now you die!” and Josh answered, “in the history of platforms, hole filling has always been a great place to start, but never a great place to end, right?”
All this cheerleading has Twitter developers very skittish. One of the guys behind one of the very most popular Twitter apps told us:
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they now deem it important to own more eyeballs. I don’t agree with this strategy but, as I said, I wouldn’t be surprised. [Twitter shouldn’t] underestimate the value of the innovation in the long tail. I hope this is not stifled if Twitter appear to be competing.”
We’ve asked Twitter CEO Ev Williams for a response to all this, but so far we’ve heard nothing.