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Friday, September 13, 2013

For Developers, a Downside to a Public Twitter

Twitter’s public offering will lead to a lot of changes, including for its investors, executives and early employees, who stand to make a lot of money.

But for the many developers who built services on top of Twitter, and helped the service become popular, the I.P.O. could mean a bleak future for their products.

In Twitter’s early days, the company had strong relationships with Web and mobile developers, who built tens of thousands of applications that made Twitter easier and more entertaining to use. It was something of a gold rush, as developers rolled out services that let people post photos and manage multiple accounts simultaneously, for example.

As Twitter’s service matured and the company began to look for ways to make money, it slowly began to shut access and resources for developers. In some cases, Twitter bought the services that were most useful to them â€" like Trendrr and Blue Fin Labs, two social media analytics firms â€" and that would make it a rounder and more robust company over all.

But many other developers watched as their businesses and products were squeezed off from Twitter’s stream of data and information until the products were no longer able to function. That noose may only tighten once the company goes public and hews to the profit demands of shareholders.

Some analysts say that Twitter’s third-party ecosystem was getting unruly. The company needed to rein it the services, they say, to streamline the experience for new users, particularly those who were unfamiliar with the service and might be confused or turned off by a poorly designed or running Twitter app.

But it was also a financial decision, especially when it came to apps that could alter how ads appeared in a Twitter stream. Twitter primarily makes money from advertising in the Twitter stream.

“They wanted to control the advertising over the long-term and limit developers who might remove ads from their apps,” said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner.

Joaquim Verges, a 26-year-old Android developer who now lives in London, says that his app, Falcon, an alternative way to use Twitter on a mobile device, was among those shut down as Twitter began to limit the number of users third-party apps could have.

“The big message in the last six months has been to stop using our API,” he said, referring to a toolkit that lets developers build services on top of other services. “They want to control the platform and gather all the users into their official apps.”

He thinks that Twitter’s strategy a mistake, because Twitter’s “army of independent developers” could help the company compete against its biggest rivals, Facebook and Google, by coming up with innovative and interesting services. Last year, Twitter said there were 1.5 million apps created on top of the platform.

“It’s really disappointing because they are missing a big opportunity,” he said. “It’s an advantage against their competitors.”

Mr. Verges said that he has reached Twitter’s cap of 100,000 users for his Twitter client, though he plans to keep it running. He said Twitter’s restrictions haven’t diminished his respect or admiration for the company, and he plans to develop a new Twitter application that will compliment the service, instead of trying to replace it. But there’s “no guarantee it won’t get shut down,” he said.

“They don’t really communicate with us,” he said. “I’m just working it anyway.”

Mr. Verges recently accepted a job at a stealth start-up in Silicon Valley called UpThere, and he said he’s keeping an eye on what Twitter does next.

There’s always a chance, he said, that the I.P.O. could revive the developer heyday. “They money they get from the IPO they could let them take a risk with indie developers” again, he said.