I am undoubtedly late to the party in commenting on the significant Twitter overhaul that rolled out late last week, but I’d like to comment nonetheless. Whether the changes in both user interface and experience are ultimately for the better or worse has been a topic debated at nauseam, but I feel as though many such debates are simply missing the point. Twitter didn’t completely rework their design because they thought the old version was unusable, quite the opposite, I think the old version was very usable and I believe they thought nothing but the same.
As of 2010, Twitter revealed that 75% of their traffic was API. There is a thriving ecosystem for apps and websites that make use of this API, from simple apps that let you read your tweets and post new tweets, to apps that make creative use of your social stream to enrich the news (Flipboard). The platform is clearly thriving, arguably one of the most, and there is no evidence of growth slowing down in that regard.
And that is the exact problem that they are trying to solve with this redesign/rethink, yes, problem. From a purely growth/user-base standpoint, Twitter made the right move by providing and continuing to improve on a very thorough and complete API. But now they have found themselves in a situation where they are basically a stream of information that powers thousands of applications that result in zero traffic to any of Twitter’s official properties. They have millions of users interacting with the service via apps and websites in a way that is dangerously detached from Twitter as a destination.
Dangerous because they need to make money, eventually, and I don’t think they have a good solution that involves API. They could charge developers for usage, but that cost will basically fall on to the end-user and result in people flocking to alternatives. Moreover, they still don’t have a reliable enough system to offer any sort of service level agreement to potential paying customers. They could try and find some clever way to inject advertising into API responses, but again, forcing this down the throats of developers would likely drive them and their users away in droves.
So where does that leave Twitter as a service, a product, and most importantly, a company? It leaves them in a situation where they need to find ways to make their own consumption of Twitter the service/platform more appealing to end users. Barring some revolutionary new way of monitizing a web property, they can’t survive without sucking people into their own website and apps. The new Twitter is a direct attempt at doing just that, and I’d be very shocked if it were the last such attempt.
As far as what I think of the redesign, I don’t think it really matters what I or anyone else thinks of it. In the long run, I believe that Twitter are making the right move by taking what others have done with the service, and using that knowledge to shape their vision for the future. They have taken the approach of starting out open, allowing the platform to grow organically, and then applying what they learn from how others make use of it back into the product. It is yet to be seen if this approach works, but I commend them for trying to innovate in the face of a very vocal user-base. social