What makes Twitter great is this: it doesn’t matter how many people join the service, or how asinine the trending topics are, because for you it’s only as big or small or smart or silly as who you follow.
I never cared how many celebrities joined, because I don’t follow them (well, I follow some of the cool ones). And so for me Twitter is as small and relevant and interesting now as when I first signed up in March of 2007.
Over the years, Twitter has grown and improved immensely. Twitter is huge now, and that is thanks in a large part to its early adopters and 3rd-party developers.
As Craig Hockenberry, Ben Brooks, and many others have pointed out, some of the best core features of Twitter were invented by users and developers:
- Twitter didn’t come up with the @reply — users did.
- Twitter didn’t come up with #hashtags (which are now a source of revenue) — users did.
- Twitter didn’t come up with term “tweet” — the 3rd-party developers of Twitteriffic did.
- Remember how Twitter’s official icon was originally a logotype, not a blue bird. It was Twitteriffic that first used a blue bird as an icon, and now Twitter’s icon is only a blue bird.
- Twitter’s official apps for iPhone, iPad, and Mac used to be the best-of-breed, 3rd-party party app Tweetie — Twitter bought the app 2 years ago.
It is sad and frustrating to see Twitter try and scare away third-party developers. It is equally frustrating to see their continued commitment to put sponsored content into our Twitter streams. Actions which mean the user experience of many millions of Twitter users who use 3rd-party apps (and I would argue this group makes up the vast majority of the most active and prolific users) will no doubt be seriously degraded in the months and years ahead.
To be fair, as users we have had free access to use Twitter as we see fit. For years our Twitter experience was ad free. Heck, for those of us who use 3rd-party apps exclusively our experience is still ad free. We have been able to freely use Twitter to our enjoyment and to our profit.
And so, what is saddening about all this is not just that Twitter seeks to clamp down on 3rd-party apps in the name of a “consistent Twitter experience“. Nor am I all that frustrated that Twitter wants to integrate ads into my timeline.
What is sad is that as long-time and active users, we’re given no choice in the matter. We must suffer the official clients and we must suffer ads.
So why not let us pay for the ad-free, 3rd-party Twitter experience we have long enjoyed?
Instapaper offers a $1/month subscription which allows you to use one of the non-official Instapaper clients and to hide the ads on the Instapaper website.
Amazon sells their Kindles with special offers, but if you don’t want to see the ads then you have to pay $30 extra.
But I am sure that option will never manifest. Because if Twitter offered an option to upgrade to an ad-free timeline it would hinder the sales of ads. The sheer virtue of the fact that a portion of Twitter’s user base was paying to not see ads would stand as proof that promoted tweets are not a part the ideal “Twitter experience”.
Moreover, it would mean that advertising partners would be buying ad spots that wouldn’t be guaranteed not to be seen by certain users. Of which those users would clearly be the most active and engaged.
If Twitter is going to sell ads they have to go all in. We knew it was coming, and now we know it’s only going to get worse. We can suffer through it or we can move on to something else.