The collective outrage directed at Twitter due to their recent announcement of future API changes is unwarranted. Twitter is a business making changes to keep their customers happy.
I personally don’t agree with these changes, but I neither run nor work for Twitter, so my opinion is nothing more than that: an opinion. I also don’t give Twitter money, making my thoughts and feelings worth even less. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but many are taking this as a personal insult.
I know the early-adopting tech community feels entitled because they helped propel Twitter into the mainstream. But Twitter turned their back on the tech community long ago. Remember when Twitter’s curated list of “who to follow” changed from Leo Laporte and Kevin Rose, to Brittany Spears?
Twitter’s policy changes have been in the works for a very long time. Fred Wilson spelled this out over 2 years ago:
I think the time for filling the holes in the Twitter service has come and gone. It was a great period for Twitter and its third party developers.
If you look at the previous link to Fred Wilson’s site, the very first comment has a common refrain from that time:
still no business model
Remember when it was cool to make fun of Twitter and their lack of a business plan? Well Twitter did grow up and found a plan, it’s the same path most free services take: sell access to its data, making users the actual product.
Google, Facebook and Twitter have some of the brightest minds in the business (save for Amazon, Apple, and a handful of startups). Yet none produced a business model that doesn’t involve advertising.
So rather than take it out on Twitter, let’s reflect on two simple truths:
First, startups/tech companies are businesses. They are not your friend, they are not your drinking buddy. I don’t care how many employees wear hoodies and flip-flops or how much they give back to OSS. They exist to make a profit. As Peter Drucker famously put it:
… the purpose of business is to create a customer
If you don’t pay for a given service, you are not the customer; you are the product. Yes, you will get the service for free, but that company will focus on keeping their actual customer happy. If you can live with this trade off, keep calm and carry on.
Second, platform owners control the platform. If you decide to build a business on someone else’s platform, you’ve explicitly agreed to some loss of control. Understanding how much control you are losing and how to manage this risk is key. All technology is built on some type of a platform and requires this calculus. The question is how much control are you giving up, and will your business survive if the platform doesn’t?
So what can we, the technologically elite and privileged, do to keep our feelings from being hurt?
If you are a user of a “free” service and want to be treated like a customer, then become one. Pay for a rival product or stop using the free service. Free services and products only exist because we enable companies to turn users into products.
If there is no alternative, remember that no one is forcing you to use these services. Use the time you will save in not using these products to then build their rival. You’ll probably learn more and come out better, regardless of your product’s success.
One day, Twitter and Facebook will feel exactly the same way Prodigy, AOL and Myspace feel today. It’s almost impossible to stay relevant and fashionable … just watch any VH1 program that looks at past decades.
As an aside, if you happen to be starting a company, make a product and sell it for money.
Sure it sounds old fashioned, but it’s an idea that has never gone out of style.