Twitter to developers: Make those apps better

Execs repeatedly put forth the message at company's Chirp conference that time is ripe for developers, but they have to innovate to rise to the top.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

SAN FRANCISCO--Twitter platform lead Ryan Sarver said to an audience of developers at the company's Chirp developer conference on Wednesday that Twitter's team wants to "support you and kind of push you--challenge you to think bigger." Bigger than just another Twitter client, that is.

"We're really excited to be here to support you not just to think big, but to build big," Sarver said. "If developers are so critical to our success, we need to work really hard to help support you, help fulfill you, and make sure that you have all the tools you need to build businesses and build meaningful products."

It's a particularly touchy time for Twitter developers because of new fears that have recently bubbled to the surface: Twitter announced last week that it is collaborating with BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion to build an official app for the handsets, and that it has acquired Atebits, manufacturer of iPhone app Tweetie. There are, obviously, lots of Twitter clients out there, and one Twitter investor referred to these apps as fundamentally "filling holes" that Twitter should have in its own service.

Sarver assured developers that the company has not declared war on them, saying that "our success is intrinsically linked together" and that developer-created applications are responsible for 75 percent of Twitter activity and 60 percent of the 55 million tweets posted every day.

Sarver announced several forthcoming updates to Twitter's developer application program interface (API): annotations, which will let developers add arbitrary metadata to anything in the system; "places," the company's geotagged directory; user streams, which will give developers access to Facebook-like activity items like one Twitter user following another and a user adding a tweet as a "favorite" in real-time; and dev.twitter.com, a central hub for developer activity. The end result of this is that he hopes the greater resources for developers will give them the ability to make deeper, higher-quality apps.

Ryan Sarver
Ryan Sarver, Twitter's product manager for the platform/API team. Sarver.org

He said Twitter's team wants to work directly with developers on "how can we make bigger apps, how can we change the world, how can we help people in different corners of the world communicate."

Sarver later told CNET that he didn't intend to convey the subtext that the recently targeted "hole-fillers" are lower quality or now redundant, but that Twitter is now hoping developers will focus their attention on more specific, more fine-tuned apps that are something the company never could build in-house. "I think it's more in the fact that that isn't where the value is," he said. "The value isn't in re-creating the core experience (of Twitter)."

Showcased during his talk was CoTweet, the business-collaboration Twitter client that has caught on with many of the companies using Twitter for marketing, customer relations, and other functions, and which is actually making money in the process.

Twitter Chief Operating Officer Dick Costolo took the stage later on in the day to talk about what the company is pitching as another opportunity for developers: @Anywhere, the Twitter integration for Web publishers that CEO Evan Williams unveiled at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival this year.

While @Anywhere in its simplest form consists of "a few lines of Javascript that you can embed into the site to get simple functionality up and running," he said that "there's obviously a lot more that publishers will want to do with those tools and so there's going to be significant opportunity for everyone in the room, for lots of companies in the room, to do this additional development work.

The initial @Anywhere features will let Twitter users sign up as well as sign in (and automatically follow "suggested users" from that publisher if they want), automatically tweet or add a new follower, and connect their accounts much as they would with Facebook Connect.

"More sites integrating Twitter and more engaged with Twitter users is more surface area for developers," Costolo said.

The gist of both talks was that opportunities for developers at Twitter are growing, not shrinking. So what about that report of an alleged secret cabal of disgruntled Twitter developers seeking revenge?

"I don't know exactly where that story came from," Sarver told CNET.