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Twitter Buys Tweetie, Adds Fuel to Developer Fires

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Just two days after comments by Twitter investor Fred Wilson made third-party Twitter developers nervous about what the company might do, those fears have become reality: The company announced Friday that it has acquired Atebits, maker of Tweetie, one of the top Twitter apps for the iPhone (s aapl). According to a post by co-founder and CEO Evan Williams on the Twitter blog, the app will be renamed Twitter for iPhone and will now be free (previously, the pro version of Tweetie cost $2.99 to download). Developer Loren Brichter said on his blog that he is joining Twitter’s mobile team and will be developing Tweetie for the iPad.

Developers and other observers immediately started analyzing the purchase as soon as the news broke. Hunch Co-founder Chris Dixon connected Fred Wilson’s comments — which the VC blogger denied were about any specific future action by the company — with the Tweetie acquisition, saying: “Wow, weird coincidence! a Twitter board member blogged about killing twitter apps the same week Twitter released/bought 2 clients!” Engadget editor Nilay Patel said that Twitter buying Tweetie was “roughly equivalent to Microsoft building it’s own WP7 phone – bye bye, ecosystem.”

Former Engadget editor and gdgt co-founder Ryan Block said: “As of today, if your app depends on Twitter for anything other than identity or content syndication, you are officially on notice.” Some developers even formed their own unofficial “union” with a Twitter hashtag — the #unionoftwitterapps, and there is plenty of discussion pro and con about the deal on a Google (s goog) group for Twitter developers. Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber wrote that “there’s going to be some heavy drinking tonight from developers of other iPhone OS Twitter API clients.”

On Wednesday, a blog post by Wilson raised some hackles in the developer community because he said that some of the features third-party apps have provided, such as picture sharing and URL shortening, should have been part of Twitter to begin with. The suggestion seemed to be that Twitter would either be developing some of those itself, or possibly acquiring them, as it did when it bought Summize and renamed it Twitter Search. Some saw this process as a natural one, since companies have been acquiring third-party apps and add-ons or developing their own services that mimic external ones for years. One developer said after the fuss over the Wilson post blew up that it was totally expected, and that he supported the company’s desire to build in some of those features.

In an interview with the New York Times just before the recent controversy, Ev Williams also said that this process was inevitable, and suggested that the company might buy certain apps, and others it might simply compete with. “There’s some misunderstanding around platforms,” he said. “There’s both a natural win-win relationship between a platform provider and third-party developers, and there’s a natural tension.” He added that there are “tons of opportunities created by the Twitter platform, and things that people will probably be disappointed if they invest in. It’s a question of what should be left up to the ecosystem and what should be created on the platform.”

Clearly, having an iPhone app was crucial to what Twitter felt it needed to provide for users, as opposed to allowing a number of developers — of apps such as Tweetdeck, Twitterific and Echofon — to fill that market need. What other things will the company decide it needs to do? An official desktop app perhaps? Or maybe a URL shortener with built-in analytics, such as (which shares some investors with Twitter already, including Ron Conway)? And if it decides to move into these markets, will it build or buy? Nervous developers everywhere are placing their bets, and will no doubt be asking some pointed questions at next week’s Chirp conference. Loic Le Meur of Seesmic and Iain Dodsworth of Tweetdeck appear to have seen this coming and have expanded the utility of their products. Le Meur also wrote a long blog post about how he sees his app stacking up against Twitter and his view of the ecosystem.

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41 Responses to “Twitter Buys Tweetie, Adds Fuel to Developer Fires”

  1. If your business model is built entirely on the assumption that another company won’t try to improve their own product… then you don’t have a business model.

  2. “…some of the features third-party apps have provided…”

    This is the key point in this discussion. If you want to build a company, make more than a feature for someone else’s product. If you just add a feature you’ll end up seeing the company either add that feature themselves because it’s turned out to have broad appeal and high value or you’ll occupy a tiny niche.

    Too many of the companies crying now have failed to go beyond being a feature for Twitter. Had they created the same feature for, say, Jaiku or Plurk, no one would care. But they rode the Twitter coattails and got lazy, ignoring the obvious flaw in their approach. I don’t feel sorry for them – this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this dynamic, it won’t be the last. If you want to build a company, build a real product that adds value and that isn’t merely a missing checkbox in someone’s product list.

    • Good advice, Rick — I think developers need to ask themselves whether what they are building is just a feature of someone else’s product or a real extension of that product into some new area. Thanks for the comment.

  3. OpenYourEyes

    Twitter just screwed over every app developer they have enticed to develop for their platform over the last several years, by entering into direct competition with them using predatory pricing (free) tactics. I hope Twitter is prepared to “do it all themselves” when it comes to any future apps. They may well just have to!

    By the way, Tweetie wasn’t the first to market. If it wasn’t for those “other” apps driving Twitter usage up, Tweetie (and Twitter) wouldn’t have the big break they got.

    It’s interesting that with all the “Tweetie is terrific” hoopla on the net, Twitter only saw value in being an advertisement delivery vehicle they plan to distribute for free while bringing an ex-Apple developer onto their mobile development team.

  4. This is why StockTwits is so smart–the anticipated this many months ago and built their own-Twitter-like platform….Howard Lindzon proves his smarts yet again, thankful to be invested with the smartest guy in the room

  5. Let this be a lesson about “ecosystems”. This buzzword gets thrown about so carelessly people have stopped understanding it’s true meaning.

    Ecosystems are not the like the ending of “The Lion King” where all the animals live happily ever after.

    Ecosystems are like the Animal Planet special where the pack of Hyenas ripping apart a Zebra.

    You’re best defense in working on a platform and not becoming a “zebra” is to 1) find out who is in charge of keeping the platform APIs working, then 2) talking (like on a phone, or face-to-face) with that person on a regular basis.

  6. If you base your business on top of something like twitter or facebook, you are too dependent on what that other business will decide. If you become successful, you will be either bought or the base service will take all the best bits of your product and make it themselves.

  7. Panic! Panic!
    How other twitter clients could possible survive?
    If I was correct, it was those 3rd party developers made twitter this popular these days…