Hey, You, Get Off of My Platform

April 11, 2010

That’s the message that Apple recently delivered to Adobe, and the message that Twitter might seem to be delivering to application developers.

Apple is the bigger firm, the bigger story, and is playing for bigger stakes. How big? I don’t think that Erik at TechCrunch exaggerated a couple of days ago when he put it like this.

I wonder whether he [Steve Jobs] is repeating the very same mistakes which relegated Macs to a niche market. Or did he learn from those mistakes so that Apple comes out on top this time?

Jobs is once again pitting Apple’s complete product design mastery against the rest of the industry, except this time he thinks he will prevail. Whether it is his repeated moves to keep Adobe’s Flash off the iPhone or his growing rift with Google over Android, Jobs is making the iPhone and iPad a relatively closed system that Apple can control.

While Apple is denying Adobe entry into iLand, Twitter is welcoming Tweetie into its fold. Twitter acquired Atebits, maker of iPhone Twitter client Tweetie. Matthew Ingram at GigaOm summed up and linked out well, indicating the range of opinion as to what the Twitter ecosystem will be in future.

I like many others, thought that something was up when I read Fred Wilson’s post about the Twitter platform’s inflection point.

Much of the early work on the Twitter Platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product… Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience.

But… What are the products and services that create something entirely new on top of Twitter?

I’m not sure I agree that Twitter should have had all of that when it launched. That would have held up the launch, and discouraged developers from filling the holes. Now there are some discouraged developers of Twitter iPhone clients who now have to compete with the official and free Twitter for iPhone. And there are others Twitter developers wondering if a similar fate will overtake them.

Although these two stories (Apple/Adobe, Twitter/Tweetie) are currently atop the Techmeme news site, the tension between firms that own platforms and firms that develop for those platforms is nothing new. Here’s a quote from Twitter founder Ev Williams, from a recent NY Times Bits piece, that could with just a word or two changed be about pretty much any platform.

There are tons of opportunities created by the Twitter platform, and things that people will probably be disappointed if they invest in… It’s a question of what should be left up to the ecosystem and what should be created on the platform.

So, if you invested in an iPhone app for the Twitter platform, would you be disappointed right now? Not if you were Loren of Atebits. While Twitter may have just dashed or dented the hopes of some developers, it has made one rather better off.

In some ways, that will encourage Twitter app development: will my app be the one acquired for that niche/hole in the product? That’s a different question from: will my app do reasonably well in an ecosystem with a large and diverse population of apps? But it’s still an interesting question. I’d say it’s a more interesting question than: what barriers and hoops will Apple put in my way next?

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