Watching the silliness and seriousness of Twitter’s continuing continuance is both entertaining and distressing. The plot seems to unfold anew, but it’s actually old stories mashed up enough to make them feel new, or a least new adjacent. Pick your myth and if you’re screaming “spoiler alert” you need a little more mileage on you before you protest too much. Icarus irony abounds.
The latest chapter featuring the shutdown of API’s essentially killing off a number (but not all) of third party Twitter clients was certainly predictable. But the handling of it just feels cheap and cowardly.
For those not in the know, Twitter decided to pull the plug on some 3rd party apps that allowed far better Twitter experiences than Twitter ever pretended to offer in the past or promises in its new future. Ok, fine. Musk owns the company, he can do what he wants with it, and he needs cash to continue pouring into the burn pit he’s created and these apps (via Twitter’s own doing) don’t bring in the ad revenue Musk needs. Make a change.
But this change was made unannounced in the middle of the night, without notice to the developers of those apps or users. And as of the writing of this blog post Twitter has still not issued any comment regarding the situation. (Apparently they are working on “comms” about it according to one report from The Information (sorry, paywalled.)
What’s saddest about this situation is embedded in the history of Twitter. In fact, many might rightly claim they define the history of Twitter if not the service itself, given that the previous ownership never did anything resembling a good job at that little essential duty. The makers of Twitterific, the iconfactory, are credited with coining the label “tweet” for every post. This history of 3rd party apps defining the Twitter experience is rich, but also fraught with turmoil. (You can read a quick but thorough summary here.) I’d also recommend iconfactory founder Craig Hockenberry’s farewell post about this.
Bottom line, everyone knew this was coming. Hoped against hope it wouldn’t. Sort of like watching what everyone knows is a bad marriage distegrate before our eyes and then it goes bust. We’re already moving into the “it will be the best thing for everybody” phase. But in an interesting way.
Given that some 3rd-party Twitter app developers are also beta-testing apps for Mastodon and newer players are also doing the same thing I personally find this wacky moment to be encouraging and possibly hopeful. Speaking selfishly, in testing some of these new apps I’m seeing the best of the familar blended with fresh new ideas in ways I haven’t seen in any category of mobile app development in quite some time. It’s actually exciting in the same way that the early days of Twitter and Twitter apps was. Out of the ashes…?
And don’t overlook the new foundation those developments are building on. Mastodon and the larger Fediverse show interesting promise as social networking backbones. Yes, there’s the potential for peril there as well. But at this point in the story the tensions seem borne out of a desire not to repeat the same mistakes.
Addendum: The Verge has a nice summary of this Musk/Twitter debacle so far.
Update: Just prior to noon CST Twitter finally released a statement of sorts.
Whew. Must have taken some best minds to work that up over the last 5-6 days.