High-Tech Frenemies

By Lyons, Daniel | Newsweek, April 26, 2010 | Go to article overview
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High-Tech Frenemies


Lyons, Daniel, Newsweek


Byline: Daniel Lyons

Twitter turns on its partners.

Twitter has become a fantastically popular Web site on the basis of the incredibly simple idea of letting people zip out 140-character blog posts to anyone who wants to read their stuff. Sure, many of the comments are dreck. But Twitter has also become a kind of hopped-up, customized news feed. Follow the right people (i.e., smart ones) and you get a constant stream of links to the most interesting articles on the Web. Created only four years ago, Twitter has 105 million users and is delivering 55 million tweets, or messages, per day. It has raised nearly $60 million in venture funding, becoming the Next Big Thing in Silicon Valley. To date the company hasn't done much to generate revenue, but that too may be changing, as last week it announced a plan to start placing ads among the tweets.

But the really cool thing about Twitter has been its business model. Instead of trying to do everything itself, the company threw open its doors and let other people build little applications that make it more useful. More than 70,000 have been created so far. Instead of going to its Web site to post tweets, for example, you can use Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Twitterrific, and Seesmic, written by outsiders. That open approach seemed like techno-nirvana, a free playground where anyone could invent and contribute.

Well, not anymore. Because just as Twitter was announcing its advertising scheme, the company also announced that it intends to scoop up the best apps and build them into Twitter itself. That means it will now be competing against some of its partners. Twitter recently snapped up a company called Atebits, developer of Tweetie, a leading Twitter client on the iPhone. In other cases it will just build its own version of what someone else has done. Either way, it's rough news for developers.

How do Twitter's three cofounders explain the change? A spokeswoman insisted everybody was too busy to comment--because, oddly enough, the company last week was hosting a conference in San Francisco for developers. What should have been a big lovefest instead turned into a massive anxiety attack. Onstage, Twitter CEO Evan Williams conceded there would be some "tension" between Twitter and its app developers going forward.

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