Down and Out on the Twitter Ecosystem / by Nate Westheimer

You think that Twitter has just become a threat to its developer community in the last month? Twitter being a closed system has been an issue since the beginning. It's just getting worse. Below is a stub/draft of a post I started writing on November 24th of 2009, and which has languished since in my pile of unpublished posts (title written then, too). Considering everything that went down with Twitter this month, boy do I wish I had finished and posted it then. It would have made me look pretty smart! :-)

For lack of looking smart, I'll look tardy and publish the stub here:

For the last several months, I've been down and out on the Twitter Ecosystem. Here's why it being a closed platform means it will ultimately wither into obscurity, taking its friends with it.

Being down on the Twitter Ecosystem hasn't been easy to do. The Twitter Ecosystem encompasses a lot of services I care a lot about: Twitter itself, Twitter Search, Bit.ly, TweetDeck, and even smaller apps, like Klout and CoTweet, or even, peripherally, apps like Foursquare.

I love these great apps -- some more than others -- but that love doen't quell my fears about Twitter and its ecosystem. I think they're in for a massive value degeneration. Here's why:

If as anything, Twitter has made the big time as a Communication Platform (more than a social network). I believe it's earned its right to stand among other great Communication Platforms, like Instant Messager (IM), SMS (texting), telephony, and even Email.

Those are some pretty impressive platforms, right? Shouldn't Twitter should be in good shape? Think again.

Ecosystems around Communication Platforms require a very specific conditions to flourish: the underlying platform must be distributed, open, and flexible. Twitter has none of these traits.

For as long as Twitter has been around, I've had these concerns.

My most loyal and long-time readers will remember when I posted about Identica and Laconica back when they came out in July of 2008. Then, I was quite sure we would all be "saved" by diversity in the microblogging space (to give you an idea of how "long ago" it was, I referenced Dodgeball as one of the competitive real-time nodes).

Today, as we all know, Twitter was able remain autonomous and, by default, keep a stranglehold on their underlying architecture of the majority of what we then called micro-blogging (and now call "real-time web") .

However, as we did learn recently, the issues of platform stability (which largely led the hooting and hollering about needing a federated system) are still here. This time, the platform stability that's at the front of our minds isn't a matter of "fail whales" and downtime but an issue of squashed companies -- the inhabitants and biggest sponsors of the ecosystem.

Make no mistake: the centralization of the Twitter platform puts a dark cloud over any company in the ecosystem -- especially the most disruptive. The days of Summize are no longer. Twitter is no loner a scrappy startup who needs to buy the most disruptive technologies from without, exchanging a bit of cash for a ton of stock, and at a low valuation. Twitter will now, even in the opinion of its biggest fans, have a much harder time growing the next order of magnitude of value, but also has enough fire-power to build whatever it wants.

What does that mean for the ecosystem? Be disruptive, create a lot of value, and risk getting replaced or bought for stock at a valuation which is quite possibly the most Twitter will ever be worth.

Fuck that.

--

Okay. So maybe I'm crazy and hyperbolic. Maybe Twitter will be a $20B company one day and it will never use its position in the middle of the ecosystem to deprecate and original value creator -- it will just buy them at low, low valuations, and the ones they buy won't have any competitors who will get left behind in the dust.

Maybe.

Okay. Maybe I'm not thinking as critically as I should about the voluntary participants in this ecosystem. It's their prerogative to invest here, right? They surely know how to gauge the risks just as well or (hopefully) better than I can. You'd say "it's a free market."

And you'd be right.

So here I am back at where I was with the Identica / Laconica post from two years ago. Hooting and hollering about the perils of a centralized system.

Twitter got away with what they're up to for the past two years and more than flourished. All the power to them and let's hope for them and others that they continue to flourish while somehow maintaining a healthy ecosystem around them.