The action on the Twitter platform last week with UberMedia reminded me what platform play is all about.
Talking to colleges, I was surprised to hear that some people think that UberMedia can “beat the platform” and create an off-Twitter network. Knowing first hand some of the developer policies that platforms like Facebook and Twitter put in place, it’s pretty easy to see that any of those platforms can shut down any service they want, whenever they want, without potentially having a reason. Off course, that can be a highly unpopular move that will result in bad PR and upset users, but if it’s “self defense” they can do it with a blink of an eye and might actually get away with it. Furthermore, even if the consequence of shutting down a company that is positioning itself as a competitor is some loss of users or a slight regression in adoption rate, that might be a small price to pay compared to the alternative.
Personally, I think Twitter made the right move, they got worried that UberMedia controls such a large percentage of twitter’s user base, so they made UberMedia behaves sooner rather than later, before they have an even greater user reach. Twitter could have looked away and ignored it, but they decided to stop this madness right now, and make sure UberMedia remembers who controls this platform. As a nice side benefit, twitter also enjoyed two days of increased user adoption for their mobile and web tools because the redirected users that wanted to learn more about the outage to their own applications.
Another recent example is an automatic algorithm used by Facebook to block application according to some criteria. Developer’s claim that Facebook is blocking application algorithmically that are growing “too fast”, regardless of whether they abuse Facebook’s developers policy. You can follow the conversation onQuora here.
At the end of the day, companies building layers of services on top of those platforms need to understand the rules of the game, and realize that as long as everybody gets along it all good, but if something goes bad, the platform can always pull the trigger on them, at any time.
Update(3/11/2011): Twitter have formerly announced that third-party developers should stop doing Twitter clients. Here is updated they have just made to their API terms of service:
“Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no,” Sarver writes very matter-of-factly.
“If you are an existing developer of client apps, you can continue to serve your user base, but we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service. We have spoken with the major client applications in the Twitter ecosystem about these needs on an ongoing basis, and will continue to ensure a high bar is maintained,”