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From Chirp: Twitter, Place, and What It Means To Third-Party Developers (And The Future of Twitter)

Going into Chirp, Twitter's first-ever developers conference, the natives were restless. A string of announcements -- from the release of Twitter's own BlackBerry app to the acquisition of development firm Atebits -- had some developers wondering where Twitter was going and what it all meant to them. While Twitter's executive team didn't answer every question, they did outline a vision for future growth with a vigorous role for third-party developers. For me, the role Twitter sees for itself and for developers was most clearly outlined in its discussion of "place."

Twitter clearly recognizes that our location is extremely relevant data that can yield substantial value for others who use (either directly or indirectly) the Twitter information network. It's not just about where you are at every given moment, but what you're saying and doing while you're there.

Ryan Sarver offered a compelling example of the power of place in his discussion about The New York Times' coverage of the Fort Hood tragedy. A reporter turned to Twitter for real-time news and information, but ran into a flood of retweets and expressions of sympathy and concern. Then he entered "near Killeen, TX" and was able to see relevant tweets from first responders, soldiers and citizen journalists. At Chirp, Twitter conveyed the importance of place and how geolocation will be a vital part of the Twitter experience.

Does this mean Twitter developers such as Foursquare and Gowalla should be shaking in their boots? No, because while Twitter is interested in data, they want others to use this information to create interesting user experiences. Twitter will never, for example, create a geolocation game with badges, mayorships and points, but they certainly want to trade information with developers who produce those sorts of applications. Foursquare can create a vibrant user experience around check-in; users' location and other data can go into Twitter's information network; and then valuable data can come back into Foursquare and other applications about where people are and the experiences and opinions they share while there.

From the stage at Chirp, Twitter executives made it clear that Twitter has to own its own destiny in certain ways. For example, they believe Twitter has a usability problem for newbies who go searching for an "official" Twitter application on their preferred platform and come up empty. It's clear that Twitter will continue to seek ways to have a real presence across platforms, which means that developers whose applications do nothing more than provide a prettier interface for Twitter will be getting some competition from the mother ship.

Of course, there's always room for competition with Twitter's official applications, but smart developers won't compete with Twitter head-to-head. Instead, they will find new and interesting ways to filter the noise, combine data, serve niche needs or otherwise create a point of distinction with Twitter.com and Twitter's soon-to-be-growing list of official Twitter clients. With just 25% of tweet traffic coming from Twitter's own site, the company recognizes its need for third-party developers and sees a bright future for both Twitter and its developer ecosystem. I think it's safe to say that by the end of the Chirp conference, most of those in attendance agreed.

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