Twitter: Don't you want me, woah, oh, oh, oh
In 1981, the Human League sang...
You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you. I picked you out
I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new.
Now five years later on you've got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you.
But don't forget it's me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.
Are there no situations in life that can't be summed up by lyrics from a Sheffield band? I'm not sure how many cocktail bars there were in Sheffield in the 80s, but fast forward 30 years, and the gist of that story can be applied to recent developments at Twitter.
Clients not encouraged
They have recently announced sweeping changes in how they will allow third party software and websites to access and display tweets. This has gone down very badly with many developers of software that allows people to access Twitter (known as "clients"), not least because Twitter didn’t create many of the features that have made it so popular. @ replies, link shortening, picture embedding, the iconic "bird" design and even calling individual message "tweets" were all innovated by independent software producers in their own Twitter clients before being adopted and integrated by Twitter themselves. So understandably many have been upset by being told they will no longer be allowed to innovate, and have to follow strict rules which prohibit any deviation from the "official" way of doing it, as well as having the number of people who can use their software capped by Twitter. They have effectively killed off any incentive for any software company to create software for Twitter.
Pulling in feeds
Many of our clients use Twitter to keep in touch with their clients and communities. We have frequently included feeds of recent tweets within website designs. Twitter made this really easy to do - providing several easy ways of accessing this data which we could display in a way which fits with the rest of a website design. Our own site does this, on the homepage and latest sections.
Look lovely, don't they?
We have even developed our own plugin for MODX (our CMS of choice) which cleverly combines server-side caching and real-time client-side updates to ensure these work on all browsers, don't fail if Twitter is unavailable and are cached by search engines. With branding and links back, this of course is all free promotion for Twitter.
Display "guidelines" become "requirements"
However, as well as dictating how tweets must be presented, from March 2013, the current methods of accessing recent tweets are being cut off. That means the our clients will not be able to show messages they have posted to Twitter, on their own websites, in a manner they choose.
It will mean many of our clients' sites effectively break, unless we take action. The only options available to us are:
- Replace the current feeds with Twitter's new official web feeds. They really don't look as lovely (unless your idea of lovely is "MySpace page", circa 2003).
- Remove live Twitter feeds from the site entirely.
We will be contacting clients over the next few months to discuss their options, and performing technical testing to understand what the effect will be when Twitter kills the service.
Our approach has frequently been to advise clients to take advantage of third party sites' functionality rather than recreate it themselves; however this is a reminder that part of taking this strategy must be to prepare for the fact that one day, that service may change or not exists.
Not user focussed
Twitter’s success has been built on its users. Yet its policy changes have been completely the opposite of user focussed. To paraphrase Cory Doctorow’s argument about DRM: no Twitter user woke up this morning thinking “I’d like less choice of software for accessing Twitter”; no website owner who uses Twitter and displays tweets on their website thought “I’d like to swap a nicely designed tweet display on my website for something ugly”; and no digital creative though “I’d like lots of my sites to break”.
For the last 10 years or so, "Web 2.0" was all about accessing data, transmitting it, combining it and enhancing it between websites. It seems Twitter has called time on their participation in this.
Perhaps this is just them saying:
I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar -
That much is true.
But even then I knew I'd find a much better place
Either with or without you.
The five years we have had have been such good times
I still love you.
But now I think it's time I live my life on my own
I guess it's just what I must do.