Twitter's Tweetie acquisition fuels developer anxiety

Microblogging phenom Twitter announced an agreement to acquire Atebits, developer of the Tweetie client for iPhone. Financial terms were not disclosed. On the Twitter Blog, CEO Evan Williams writes that Atebits founder Loren Brichter will join the Twitter staff--Tweetie will be renamed Twitter for iPhone, and turned into a free application. (It previously sold for $2.99.) "Careful analysis of the Twitter user experience in the iTunes App Store revealed massive room for improvement," Williams notes. "People are looking for an app from Twitter, and they're not finding one. So, they get confused and give up. It's important that we optimize for user benefit and create an awesome experience."

The Atebits acquisition heralds a new approach for Twitter, which historically has focused on its website and related services while leaving work on mobile software applications to third-party developers. Even prior to the deal, Twitter developers were expressing their growing concerns that the firm will build more apps in-house or purchase services that bolster its overall vision--those anxieties were stoked in part by a recent blog post by Union Square Ventures principal and longtime Twitter board member Fred Wilson, who contended that the Twitter platform "is at an inflection point, much like the desktop software and hardware business was in the mid 80s as the desktop platform started to mature... I think the time for filling the holes in the Twitter service has come and gone." According to Wilson, developers should instead focus on a new breed of Twitter apps emphasizing analytics, social gaming, discovery and the enterprise.

In an interview with The New York Times, Williams expressed a similar perspective. "There are tons of opportunities created by the Twitter platform, and things that people will probably be disappointed if they invest in," he said. "It's a question of what should be left up to the ecosystem and what should be created on the platform." Williams said Twitter will continue to build apps and features it needs, even if third-party developers already provide them, adding that Twitter bought search solutions provider Summize in 2008 because it realized it needed a search engine. "There could be other stuff like that, that completes the platform and makes it better," he said. "Since we're still evolving, that may happen more."

For more on Twitter's evolving relationship with the developer community:
 -read this New York Times article

Related articles:
RIM debuts new Twitter app for BlackBerry
Yahoo inks deal to integrate Twitter content
Twitter now profitable thanks to search agreements