According to a report in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, Twitter is in “advanced talks” to buy TweetDeck, one of the leading desktop applications for accessing the real-time social information network. If successful, the Journal said Twitter could acquire the U.K.-based application developer for as much as $50 million. Although the deal could obviously go off the rails at any point, buying Tweetdeck would be a smart move for Twitter to make on a number of levels.
As we’ve written a number of times, the information network — which has been going through some executive turmoil recently — has had a fairly tense relationship with third-party developers who use its API to create apps and services. It started with the acquisition of Tweetie last year, which triggered a debate over whether Twitter was deliberately crushing or dismantling its ecosystem. (Former CEO Evan Williams later admitted that the company “screwed up.”) Those kinds of concerns returned to the forefront for many over the past couple of months, as Twitter ratcheted down the terms for use of its API and took a number of other steps to enforce its vision.
One of those steps was a crackdown on UberMedia, a well-funded startup founded by veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bill Gross, which has had a tumultuous relationship with Twitter despite its relatively short lifespan — and which is rumored to be working on a competing Twitter-style information network. One of Gross’s run-ins with Twitter came last year: Just days after UberMedia announced a plan to roll out an advertising platform based around tweets, Twitter announced its own similar plans, and made it clear that it would not look kindly on other apps running their own ad programs. (Coincidentally or not, Tweetdeck is one of the few apps approved to run Twitter’s ads.)
If Twitter does buy Tweetdeck, it would be a substantial blow against UberMedia for a number of reasons. The most significant is that Gross was also in talks to acquire the British-based app until fairly recently. Although it’s not clear why the acquisition never went ahead, the talks seemed to stall at about the same time that two of UberMedia’s other Twitter apps were switched off by Twitter in February, after the company said they were behaving in ways not allowed by the network’s terms of service. Buying Tweetdeck would be a clear shot across the bow of a potential competitor. That in turn would serve Twitter well at a time when it’s seen by some as being in turmoil, and therefore potentially open to attack or a loss of focus. It would also show Twitter is prepared to use the $200 million in funding it received recently for things other than just more server farms and programmers.
An acquisition would have other benefits as well, however, the most obvious being control over one of the leading “power tools” for its service. Although most casual users tend to prefer either the Twitter website or a mobile app, Tweetdeck is used by a lot of journalists, marketing professionals and others as a dashboard for their social media use. It allows for Facebook integration and has other features that also appeal to frequent users, including the ability to show multiple panes for lists, etc.
A Tweetdeck buy would also send a message to those third-party apps and services that have had a fractured relationship with the network: Try hard enough and you might get acquired. Although Twitter steered developers away from coming out with new clients in its recent statements about its API, a Tweetdeck deal — and the partnerships the network has recently announced with other Twitter-related tools such as Sulia and also with DataSift — would be a tangible sign Twitter is prepared to invest in the ecosystem, not just bulldoze it or put up fences around it.