Twitter has been attacked by industry analysts lately because of new policy decisions. For one, Twitter is cracking down on third party apps. They are limiting the number of users a (non official twitter) third party app (like Tweetbot on the iPhone or Seesmic on the desktop) can have. Many people use these apps to interact with twitter, preferring them over the web or official apps. Second, they are limiting the usefulness of their own apps.
We can see the rational for this. They want to start making money on their product. The obvious way to do this is by interjecting ads and partnerships (like if someone tweets about a sports team, a special ESPN card about the team is inserted in a tweet), and the only way to ensure this is by forcing people to use the official methods of interacting with Twitter. It is easily seen how a third party app could market itself as the “ad-free” version of twitter.
Who else can we look at to see example of this. Facebook. There are very few third party facebook apps. Most people use the official mobile app, and interact with the service through the web interface. So, why less ire toward Zuckerberg than Ev?
I think back to the classic political strategists like Machiavelli. One of his principles is “It is better to be stingy than generous”. Explored more, it is far better to be seen as stingy and not giving when you start. Then as you soften with time you can relax and give more. This creates feelings of good will and appreciation toward you. Going the opposite way is supremely more difficult and often leads to revolt. Ask any parent who suddenly changes their mind and doesn’t let their kid do something they used to. “But you promised!” Or, try taking away an entitlement program from an interest group. Even when it is arguably necessary for your survival, you will come off as greedy and going against your word.
Facebook started off as a closed system. You needed a .edu college email to join. You famously can’t take data out of Facebook as easily as you can pull it in. (See how Facebook won’t allow Google to scan it’s data for searching) But, this is just how Facebook is. You know what you are getting into when you sign on. When they do open up, like making a deal with Apple to let you import contact data into your iPhone, or export your account, it is seen as a big positive step. Thanks, Facebook for your benevolence!
Twitter on the other hand is famously open. You can see tweets without even having an account. Twitter accounts are by default “public”. And, now they are making moves to set up some fences to protect their product, and everyone is on the attack. Some have even gone so far as to set up “open” competitors.
The lesson is obvious. Starting closed and slowly opening up as needed to appease complaints is far easier than starting open and trying to dam that flow.