I Haven't Quit Twitter - Twitter Quit Me

It's the height of self-indulgent wankery to blog about why one is flouncing away from a social network. So, here's my rant. There are many like it - but this one is mine.

Let me start by saying something which I hope is obvious. Twitter belongs to Twitter. It's their game and they can take their ball home any time they like.

Therefore, all whinging and whining by jilted developers ought to hold no more weight than kids moaning that it's all so unfair!

Still, my blog, my rules. Let the kvetching begin...

The Trigger

Twitter knows a fair bit about me. I've contributed over 26,000 tweets. Enough to fill that book I keep promising I'll write. It knows my connections, what I favourite, what I retweet, what I had for breakfast.

Yet this is the bullshit which passes for a promoted Tweet.
Twitter Sun Promoted Tweet
(Incidentally, that link got around 3,250 clicks from Twitter users. Wonder how much they paid for it?)

Twitter needs to make money. For some ridiculous decision, they've decided that selling eyeballs to advertisers is the way forward.

Judged on this, and other mis-targeted Tweets, Twitter is going bankrupt soon. Their targeting sucks, their implementation is obnoxious, and their goodwill is plummeting.

So, as I said:

Then came Twitter's Night of the Long Knives. AKA "Hey! Developers! Fuck you very much!"

The Twitter of Christmas Past

A couple of years ago, I spent a few hours with Raffi - Twitter's brand-new developer evangelist. We chatted about Dabr, and I gave him some pointers on how I would like entities to work. He seemed to take the feedback on board and, happily, at least some of my ideas made it into production.

I raised bugs on Twitter's bug tracker, and sometimes they were fixed. They rarely are nowadays.

Dabr was developed because Twitter didn't have a very good mobile experience. We became very popular in countries like Indonesia where data was cheap, but phones were expensive.

The adverts on Dabr paid for the hosting and left a little over for beer money each month. We weren't major league players, yet in 2010 we had nearly half-a-million users. We stopped counting open source clones once we hit a hundred of them - although we noticed when ÜberSocial Mobile
picked us for their mobile web solution.

I wasn't planning on revolutionising the world, it was just a fun coding project that somehow helped Ai Weiwei break through the Great Firewall of China.

Which was nice.

All was good in the Twitter-verse. Or so I thought.

The March Of The Idiots

All you need to know about MBAs is encapsulated in this quote.

Harvard - one of the most prestigious universities - awarded an MBA to George W Bush. A man many of us wouldn't trust to sit the right way round on a toilet.

-- Terence Eden

Twitter decided that they needed to make money. There's no shame in that. What is shameful is how boring they have been.

  1. Sell eyeballs to advertisers.
  2. Sell access to the firehose for megabucks.
  3. If you're a very large company, we may do some nebulous deal with you.

That, it appears, is that. Nothing to harness the power of the crowds, no way to work with the thousands of developers, ignoring the millions of small businesses who rely on Twitter.

Either you're a big business or you can piss off. Small developers have been told they can play no part in this brave new world.

So This Is It

Twitter just isn't fun any more.

  • As a developer, I've been relegated to a third class citizen.
  • As a user, I'm clearly not as important to Twitter as celebrities and those who follow them.
  • As someone who has directed hundreds of thousands of users to Twitter, I feel like a kicked puppy.
  • As a regular contributor, I feel taken for a chump. I'm merely fodder for advertisers.

So, for now, it's goodbye. My Dabr development is now focussed on App.net. My Twitter usage is relegated to a few auto-tweets & checking it for a few minutes when the withdrawal gets too much.

Maybe I'll be back when the infamous "Twitter Quadrant" looks more like this:
Twitter Fun

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28 thoughts on “I Haven't Quit Twitter - Twitter Quit Me”

  1. says:

    Great post, I've been inching away from Twitter bit by bit since it contracted aids (ads). I generally stay away from social networks nowadays (except Facebook), and stick to Hacker News, as anything remotely interesting ends up there (or on TechCrunch).

    Sad about Twitter though, I remember a few years back I sucked a 500 million tweet database from Twitter over 2 months using its Search API to do some natural language processing experiments.

    I applied for the firehose but they never gave me access. And the lack on language meta-data per tweet was killing me (had to analyse everything using probability algorithms and language corpora). Too bad, Twitter, too bad.

  2. Scott says:

    While this is clearly an (informed) rant, your perspective as an experienced developer in the Twitter ecosystem (Twecosystem?) is uniquely insightful.

    To your knowledge, has there been a qualified and quantified examination of the degree to which Twitter's success is owed to third-party development?

    1. There have been some estimates, which said that the majority of posts came through the official apps. I think that's unlikely - given the number of people that I see using 3rd parties. It also doesn't take into account people who only read Twitter.

      1. Scott says:


        Twitter's actions seem to communicate that they place a very low value on third-party development. That or a desperate fear of lost revenue (in their arguably myopic view.)

        To your knowledge, was their a discussion of something to the effect of tiered API access? I never saw an indication of that among the incredulous responses to the new limits.

        1. Nothing that I saw. Although, on their developer board, they are saying that they "will look closely" at the changes.

          Yeah, right!

      2. Until they bought the leading clients, and nuked the once that they didn't buy, the vast majority of the tweets were via third party apps (remember when Tweetdeck was a standalone app and lead the pack 🙁 ).

  3. Twitter needs to make money. For some ridiculous decision, they’ve decided that selling eyeballs to advertisers is the way forward.

    how do you propose they do this better then?

    1. A fair point. Off the top of my head...

      Twitter could have asked developers to show their ads, or charged us for API use, or asked for community funding, or given incentives to people who could afford to pay, or sold analytics, or any of a hundred different way to keep developers and users happy.

      They want to be the global pulse, yet they're stomping on people who can get them further reach. All so they can sell a rich audience to advertisers.

  4. Lx says:

    1/ Twitter could have asked developers to show their ads.
    I know that developers are the new rock stars but what you are saying is companies = evil, developers = good? Ads = Ads.
    2/ charging for API use, fair.
    3/ Community funding ? Ppl have invested a lot of money into twitter. Twitter is not a .org, twitter is not wikipedia.
    4/ Sold analytics, i'm pretty sure another guy would have made a post about "Twitter sells your soul" etc.
    5/ any of a hundred different way to keep developers and users happy = Void.

    Sry but I personally think you are overreacting, they are trying to find a business model, what's the pb with that.

    1. Twitter's promoted Tweets only appear in the official clients - they're not even syndicated out to developers. They could have done a revenue sharing model with us; "Every click gets the developer x% of what we get" etc.

      As for the other points, I apologise for not having your excellent business sense.

  5. To your point re 'How much did the Sun pay?' - I believe Twitter charge (on promoted Tweets at least) on a CPE model, where E = Engagement and 'Engagement' is measure via clicks, RTs, Favourites, replies etc...

    Here's some notes I made during a session a while back - http://www.flickr.com/photos/whatleydude/7334350850/

    That aside - Damn good write up.

    ...and I'm not far behind you re App.net - and hey, it means I still get to use Dabr!

    1. Blimey! Well, as can be seen from my screenshot, the promoted tweet certainly got a lot of interaction. Very little of it positive though.

      Perhaps they could move to a charge-per-takedown model. Don't like what people are saying about News International? That'll be $0.35 for every tweet we delete!

  6. Yep, that is as good a read as it is worrying. 

    Twitter were one of the few companies that turned down a request to visit them next week during the Orange sponsored #Blogbus tour of Silicon Valley. What is most interesting is the companies that refused us seem to fall into a certain 'character'.

    I was actually invited to drop in to twitter by one of most senior execs "anytime I was in the Valley" two years back. Now, the reply was a definite NO. The character I am referring to is one of 'we used to love you when we were small but now we are big we hate you unless you are big too'. The other companies that refused begin with A and F and are both also very big.

    To me, this shows that companies quickly become detached from their core supporters as they scale. This, in my opinion (and experience) is a HUGE mistake. The joined up nature of the world today, with access to all manner of distance and culture gap bashing comms, makes it an even bigger mistake than it once was. 

  7. Many Thanks for this interesting post.

    Perhaps we need a good deal of competition : for a while, Twitter and Facebook have been the lonely examples of social network. They have taken the advantage of it — too much advantage, I'm afraid… As an experienced developer, do you see any forthcoming projects that could eventually overthrow them?

  8. AM says:

    As usual, a completely nonsensical post by a programmer. First of all, Twitter is not a software company - it is a media company. Secondly, most users of Twitter do not care whether they are good to developers or not - they want to read what Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber says. On a more serious note, a lot of my friends use Twitter as a source of political news - the kind that is not reported by the mainstream media in the country. And having used Twitter for the last 6 months, I have absolutely no complaints on the ads - they show me at most one or two promoted tweets a day - and if they are not relevant, I ignore them - they do not interfere with my reading at all. Probably 99% of Twitter users are like me - who won't pay a cent to use a Twitter-like service and don't mind the ads. The rest 1% are the programmers - who somehow have a false belief that they are entitled to special treatment - I really hope Twitter bans all apps not endorsed by them and throws out the ever whining developers completely out of the ecosystem.

  9. volt says:

    You could always switch to identi.ca. It's like twitter with out the ads, celeberties w/ megaphones, and some extra features (like groups).

  10. AM says:

    It's the same risk as Start a blog -> Put adsense on it -> Get some visitors -> Become rich.

    And then Google permanently disables your account for "invalid click activity". You cannot ever rely on online services for your livelihood unless you are paying for them and the company has promised support.

  11. dwmf says:

    It sounds like a big bad venture capitalist is now running the show and wants some bucks out for the bucks put in. Fair enough, but he's not showing much imagination. Maybe you couldl throw him some hints, Terence.

  12. heliotrollpe says:

    Listen, I'm not a developer, or active in the nitty-gritty of the tech world (although I find it entertaining to follow). Still, listen to how your post sounds:

    1) As long as I acknowledge what "self-indulgent wankery" it is to write a post like the one I'm about to write, it's ok: I've moved to block my own ego by demonstrating awareness of it.

    2) Hey, I'm no big thing: I didn't make that much money with my Twitter client. But I directed HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of users to you, Twitter! I even helped bring free speech to a Chinese dissident! Not being egotistical here or anything...

    3) ... and I realize you have to make money, Twitter: you're a business, not a charity. But man are your solutions stupid, unimaginative, annoying, and - hey! - you're cutting out the client I developed for your service! I don't have any suggestions for your predicament, but why d'you have to be so mean to ME? Don't you see I helped a Chinese dissident?!

    4) It's over, Twitter! I've packed my bags. You treated me, someone who helped MAKE you, like a third-class citizen. So BYE. I've also written a blog post...

    ...which will become the next site for an angry techie-developer circle-jerk, at the last moment of which we'll uniformly turn towards Twitter and expel our liquid disdain in its direction.

    People build their houses on top of a property that isn't theirs, then scream that their 'livelihoods' are being threatened when the landowner — who's remained silent, even gently encouraging up to that point — decides he needs to sell it, since he's going broke.

    "Hey, I'm going broke, and I'm gonna sell this land. You lot need to clear out. This is going to become a celebrity retreat, where their fans will hold circle jerks around 140-word poems scrawled by the celebrities on wet napkins, many many times a day. The money it'll make by advertising to these fans—"

    "But I built this house with my BARE HANDS!"

    Yes, Twitter's transfigured into a plain-faced corporate entity, with all the typical concerns of one. It's rather odd, though, that anyone would build their livelihood atop the charity of a thing like that. Did not one of you see this coming?

    Still, what would the tech world be if it couldn't hold navel-gazing circle-jerks atop soapboxes formed by piles of soon-to-be or already obsolete: mobile phones; all-in-one PC monitors; keyboards; and the wooden furniture from light-filled electronics retail stores? TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb would collapse in week!

    1. 5) "You also approve comments from people who are critical of me" - yeah just so you can show how open and honest you are.

      6) "Look, I've used literary devices like false-modesty, questioning the interlocutor, and rhetoric." - oooooh! Everyone is so impressed with your writing style.

      Still, it's nice that you shared your thoughts with the group. Although, you could have just said "Christ, what an arsehole!"


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