The Balance of Openness

I have been meaning to write about Twitter’s handling of UberTwitter and how hard it is to run an API program when balancing that program against revenue targets.  I certainly felt this when I was leading the Open AIM program.  We were constantly debating internally what was more important, owned and operated AIM clients, or the “power of the network.”  Twitter, I think is having some of these same internal discussions now.

For services and products that have open APIs, it is an awesome opportunity to grow your network and delight developers.  APIs work well if they can directly contribute to your monetization through licensing, or indirectly by contributing to the ecosystem.  Where it gets tricky is if your APIs do neither.  Companies start putting in controls and terms that prevent developers from innovating, and it is a slippery slope.

I cannot speak for what is happening at Twitter.  I love Twitter’s API, I have used it for years, and know that without that API, Twitter would not be here today.  I can share what happened with OpenAIM, that early on we were able to monetize through licensing, but never took it seriously enough.  Since we could not monetize indirectly off of OpenAIM, because monetizing AIM was always a difficult task, we started putting limits on the access and rules for developers.  That was a death knell for OpenAIM, especially when Google had opened up GTalk.  Hindsight being what it is, I wish we had pushed harder on the licensing front and basically completely opening up the rest of the program with no strings attached.

For Twitter, I hope they can find that balance that allows 3rd party developers to continue to have the access that they have enjoyed.  Innovation is a great thing, and Twitter has to thank a lot of the developers who have used the platform to build things like TwitPic.

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