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Summary:

Twitter is rumored to be acquiring TweetDeck, and one of the big questions is whether it will keep the app alive or not. But if it does decide to kill it, the company could do further damage to the already tense relationship it has with developers.

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There are more rumors making the rounds about Twitter acquiring the TweetDeck client, with TechCrunch and Reuters both saying they have confirmed a deal that is expected to be announced within days, a followup to an earlier report by the Wall Street Journal that the two were in talks. One of the big question marks, should such a deal actually occur, is whether Twitter will keep TweetDeck alive or euthanize it — but if it does decide to kill the app, the company could arguably do further damage to the already tense relationship it has with third-party developers.

One of the obvious motives for acquiring TweetDeck, as we’ve written before, is to keep it out of the hands of UberMedia — the Bill Gross startup that has had a contentious relationship with Twitter since it was first created last year, in part because the company made it clear that it wanted to set up a competing advertising model and possibly a complete alternative network to Twitter. UberMedia was also said to be in talks with TweetDeck, but those expired without any resolution. Preventing Gross from acquiring the company, and bringing those users into the Twitter family, could justify the $50 million that Twitter is reportedly offering.

One of the arguments for killing TweetDeck is that since Twitter just wants to keep it away from UberMedia, then shutting it down is a logical next step, since it isn’t really a strategic acquisition. Although the app is favored by a number of power users, some have argued that Twitter is really focused on its broad user base — most of whom either use the Twitter website or mobile apps — and therefore it doesn’t have any interest in TweetDeck.

While both of those things may be true, I think Twitter would be wrong to kill TweetDeck, for a number of reasons. One is pretty straightforward: if an app is used by your most hard-core power customers, including a bunch of large corporations and media outlets. Why risk irritating those users? It doesn’t make any sense. It would cost Twitter very little to simply keep TweetDeck running for those that want to use it, and try to migrate them to other clients over time if it decides to do that. And spending $50 million just to kill something seems like a pretty dumb use of the money Twitter has raised from VCs, especially for a company that isn’t even close to being profitable.

Then there’s the impact on Twitter’s relationship with third-party developers and its “ecosystem,” which I took a look at for a recent GigaOM Pro report (subscription required). At the moment, the information network is currently caught between its past — in which it encouraged anyone and everyone to develop apps using its API, with very few restrictions on what they could do — and its future, which involves controlling its network and access to that network, for business reasons. To put it bluntly, Twitter has to come up with a business that justifies the billions of dollars it is theoretically worth on the private market after raising $200 million in venture capital.

The problem is that many of the moves it has made — shutting down UberMedia’s apps, tightening its restrictions on the API, telling people not to bother making new clients, and so on — have not just ruffled feathers in the developer community but made some seriously question their relationship with the company. That isn’t something to be taken lightly. And while buying TweetDeck might look like a payoff for developer Iain Dodsworth and his team, shutting it down will make it look like Twitter is willing to bulldoze whatever it wants in order to maintain its control over the ecosystem.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Umberto Rotundo

  1. Why are you hypothesising about something that we don’t know happen? Has anyone yet said they’ll kill TweetDeck?!

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    1. There has been plenty of commentary by those who believe that Twitter is buying it simply to shut it down — these are my thoughts about why that would be a bad idea, that’s all. Thanks for the comment.

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  2. Derek Lambert Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    I fear for TweetDeck in the hands of Twitter. I’m a devotee of TweetDeck, I guess a ‘power user’. What concerns me is Twitter’s lack of imagination in their attempts to monitize the network. This results in control freakery which is completely at odds with the anarchic substance of the network. Why do they seem to imagine that advertising is the only way to generate revenue? Why assume that power users would reject paying for a premium service devoid of advertising – and with the right to use any third-party client of their own choosing?

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  3. Understandable for the media to speculate for content purposes, but Twitter will NOT kill TweetDeck. It’s already been reported that Twitter was looking for a UK office, and thus, TweetDeck is attractive for a European headquarters. Plus, no way would Twitter piss off the power uses on TweetDeck. Rather, Twitter will probably enhance TweetDeck, then start charging for the premium, power version of the client app. A new revenue stream for Twitter.

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    1. I agree that would make sense, KRM — a lot more sense than killing it. Thanks for the comment.

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      1. And remove features like deck.ly, which would be really BAD.

        Also, I feel they will remove facebook intergration too.

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    2. Derek Lambert Tuesday, May 3, 2011

      There’s no way that Twitter would pay $50m for TweetDeck just to open a European HQ. It could do that for a fraction of that cost. It’s outbidding the competition for TweetDeck.

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  4. Interesting Hypothesis. It would be a shame to kill Tweetdeck especially for the reasons that Twitter shouldn’t be alienating the developer ecosystem anymore than it already has.But given Twitter’s renewed focus on its own web/mobile version, there is a definite redundancy in the form of having another client. On a totally different approach, if it buys Tweetdeck (which i think is one of the most used third-party client there is), is there a possibility of Twitter throttling API, bandwidth et all for other popular clients like Hootsuite etc. and target complete traffic on its own properties

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  5. TweetDeck also offers the ability to browse other social media feeds, like Facebook and Google Buzz. Keeping it around would help Twitter as a firm expand beyond the Twitter API into other social messaging networks.

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  6. Having worked at a big media company I have seen many ways to kill a business without shutting it down outright. Not that it would be Twitter’s intention stated or otherwise. It’s just that most mergers and acquisitions fail — 50-80% of the time according to research.

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  7. If Twitter want to kill Tweetdeck, all they really need to do is stop updating it, which is entirely possible. The other two possibilities I can think of would be to rebrand it as (or merge with) Twitter’s own official desktop client or to market it as a premium product and charge “pro” users a one-off fee to use it (with value added from other features).

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  8. Thank you for a well thought-out article. I agree it would be a shame to kill TweetDeck. TweetDeck is clearly superior to Twitter’s client, which is why it’s used by power users. A more desirable course of action, as some have suggested here, would be to rebrand it as Twitter’s own client, perhaps with Pro pricing for some features, or to make it the Pro version, again charging for its use. We can only hope.

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  9. If Twitter acquires TweetDeck, they better realize the need for a desktop application that can schedule tweets and give you customizeable column views. If they kill it off without understanding those needs, we’ll all have to move to HootSuite, which is cute and functional, but I loves me the interface of TweekDeck. Simple, and sleek.

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