Twitter Aims to Clean Up ‘Fractured Landscape’

Twitter continues to grow by leaps and bounds, but that isn’t stopping the company from moving aggressively to improve the user experience.

In a lengthy post on the direction of the company, Twitter Platform Director Ryan Sarver said the research indicates consumers continue to be confused by the “different ways a fractured landscape of third-party Twitter clients displays tweets and let users interact with core Twitter functions.”

For developers considering building client apps designed to mimic or reproduce the Twitter experience, Sarver gave some clear advice: don’t go there.

“[W]e need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way,” he said.

Twitter wants to head off further development of third-party client apps and websites that display tweets because they don’t always follow the company’s design guidelines, Sarver said, while others use their own version of popular Twitter features like suggested users, trends and other data streams, “confusing users in our network even more.”

The post spells out the company’s intent to be the primary source of the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience on phones, computers and other devices. “If there are too many ways to use Twitter that are inconsistent with one another, we risk diffusing the user experience,” Sarver said, while also noting that a number of client applications have repeatedly violated Twitter’s terms of service, including its user privacy policy.

Sarver said Twitter is not demanding current developers of Twitter client apps necessarily drop out, but warned that “we will be holding you to high standards to ensure you do not violate users’ privacy, that you provide consistency in the user experience, and that you rigorously adhere to all areas of our Terms of Service.”

Blog pioneer Dave Winer said in a Scripting News post today that he stopped developing for Twitter a long time ago when he said the service made clear certain areas of development were going to be off limits.

“I am so happy I cut the cord with Twitter long before they got to this point,” Winer said. “I’m pretty far along in doing a new user interface for microblogging, one without many of Twitter’s limits. Had I been trying these ideas out on their platform, today is the day I would have become officially illegal.”

Twitter ecosystem continues to grow

Twitter has made its intent to grow its own clients very clear through in-house development and acquisitions over the past year, and it now dominates in those areas. Sarver said the company’s own data show that 90 percent of active Twitter users use “official” Twitter apps on a monthly basis.

But also noteworthy is the growing number of non-client, Twitter apps by third-party developers. “[T]his is a trend we want to continue to support and help grow. Twitter will always be a platform on which a smart developer with a great idea and some cool technology can build a great company of his or her own,” Sarver said.

He also highlighted several companies and areas of development that he said are thriving, including publisher tools like SocialFlow, curation services like those provided by Mass Relevance and the hundreds of companies using real-time Twitter data for such applications as ad targeting and individual reputation scores.

Other hot areas for Twitter development Sarver pointed to are social CRM, enterprise clients and brand insights.

“Companies such as HootSuite, CoTweet, Radian6, Seesmic and Crimson Hexagon help brands, enterprises and media companies tap into the zeitgeist about their brands on Twitter, and manage relationships with their consumers using Twitter as a medium for interaction,” he said.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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