Twitter extends the olive branch--will developers respond?

Jason Ankenyeditor's corner

All relationships hit rough patches sooner or later, and the relationship between Twitter and its developer community is no exception. Tensions between Twitter and developers have been escalating for months as the microblogging giant has ramped up its efforts to institute official branded clients in place of third-party applications, a measure to minimize fragmentation and create a more consistent user experience. Needless to say, that's made developers extremely wary, but it hasn't stopped them from continuing to build on the Twitter platform: In July, Twitter announced there are now more than a million registered applications across its ecosystem, up from about 150,000 just a year earlier. In addition, there are more than 750,000 developers worldwide producing Twitter apps spanning categories from analytics to curation to publisher tools--in fact, developer activity is so frenzied that a new Twitter app is registered every 1.5 seconds.

Developers haven't abandoned Twitter, but their trust issues aren't going away, either. The precedent has been established: Twitter can and will throw around its weight as necessary, crushing developers in the process. To its credit, Twitter is taking steps to mend fences. Two months ago, the company introduced dev.twitter.com, a Drupal-based developer portal including APIs, tips, tutorials, blogs and forums designed to improve dialogue across all corners of the Twitter universe. "The entire Twitter team is committed to investing in the ecosystem by listening to developers and enabling them with the right tools and information," Twitter vows. "[Now] anyone in the ecosystem can start building with Twitter, connect directly with Twitter team members, exchange ideas with fellow developers, and find all the resources they need to create their own product or business."  

Now Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is taking the next step, writing a brief but compelling note to thank developers for their contributions to the platform's growth and solicit their feedback on how to improve the relationship between the two factions. Calling developers "a fundamental part of [Twitter's] DNA," Dorsey states "Our ongoing commitment is to give you the structure, tools, resources and support you need to build your businesses as you leverage the power of Twitter. We want to know what additional materials you need from us to help you build products, boost distribution and expand your reach. I've opened a thread, Listening to your feedback, in our Discussions group so that you can share your ideas and opinions with me and the rest of the team. In exchange, we will not only work to provide you with better tools and resources, but we will also bring you new opportunities."

Dorsey makes it clear that the future of Twitter and its partners lies in the mobile channel. "With Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) upcoming deep integration of Twitter into iOS 5, there is an opportunity for us, together, to take the ecosystem to a new level," he states. "Very soon, anywhere there's an iPhone or an iPad, you'll always find Twitter. If you're an iOS developer, you can add Twitter to your application to personalize the experience for your users, giving them easier and better ways to login, enrich their experience, share thoughts and content and help boost your distribution."

This isn't the first time Twitter has pitched developers on the transformative promise of iOS 5 integration. Hours after Apple first confirmed Twitter integration in iOS 5, allowing users to sign in once and then tweet directly from all Twitter-enabled apps--among them Photos, Camera, Safari, YouTube and Maps--with a single tap, Twitter stated it will extend the single sign-on capability to developers as well, enabling the creation of more social mobile app experiences. In a subsequent interview with All Things Digital, Twitter director of platform Ryan Sarver said the company expects direct iOS integration to profoundly impact the shape and scope of applications developed around social interaction. "Now literally every iOS developer can be a Twitter developer," Sarver said in June. "We think every app is going to benefit from instant personalization from this social layer, from gaming to utilities to enterprise apps."

But for Twitter itself to benefit from iOS 5 integration, it must guarantee that developers maximize the opportunity before them, creating the kinds of apps that drive new and expanded social interactions. Whether Dorsey is seeking to bring new developers into the Twitter family, bring back developers burned by its previous actions or simply calm the nerves of devs waiting for the other shoe to drop, the message is clear: Twitter can't evolve without new apps to push it forward. By adding iOS integration, Dorsey isn't simply extending the olive branch--he's also dangling a carrot few developers can refuse. -Jason

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