Twitter Takes Tweetie. Good or bad?

April 10th, 2010 by Ivo

Yesterday Twitter announced it has acquired Tweetie, the popular Twitter client for iPhone (and Mac desktops but the move seems to focus on the iPhone app).

Disclaimer: I love Tweetie; dispite it not being free (it will be free from now on), I liked it much better than the free alternatives.

For Twitter, this is a good move. It will finally give them an 'official' client for phones. They also announced a Blackberry app yesterday, and you can easily see that they needed one by looking at their 'Using twitter with your phone' page. It explains how to use Twitter using SMS, something that never really caught on as a main twitter use. With this move, Twitter fills a hole they had in their product offering. It is very similar to what happened in 2008, when they acquired Summize, which is now search.twitter.com.

Back then I predicted this could be their business model and this move perfectly fits within the strategy I then described.

When acquisitions like this happen, twitter is full of opinions. Here are 2 that stood out for me:

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Now it's perfectly logical that Funkatron is emotional. He is the author of Spaz, another popular Twitter client. When looking at it more closely though, we notice that Spaz is not available for iPhone, and Tweetie is not available for most platforms Spaz supports (the only overlap is Mac desktops). Also, Twitter owning Tweetie has no effect on Spaz's Statement of Purpose. Still I can understand Funkatron's sentiment. I was in a similar position when Google released Google Calendar when I had just developed the first version of Epointment, but in the end that's life. Sometimes you gamble and loose. But Spaz hasn't lost yet. It has a massive amount of followers so there is no reason why it shouldn't continue to flourish.

Ramsey's argument is that this stiffles choice. Surely the fact that Twitter can heavily promote Tweetie as the default iPhone client will help boost Tweetie's popularity and will make it harder for other clients to market themselves, but it does not stiffle choice.

I've seen comparisons to Microsoft killing off Netscape. This was different because Microsoft bundled IE with every copy of Windows; Twitter has no way to bundle Tweetie other than promoting it on their site. As long as Twitter remains an open platform, opportunities to create your own clients will remain. There are numerous examples:

  • Microsoft owns the official MSN client, yet there are tons of popular MSN clients out there.
  • Philips invented the CD yet there are many CD player manufacturers. Philips is not even the most popular one.
  • Google owns Google Apps AND the official iPhone client, yet there's a ton of iPhone application clients that users can choose from
  • Slightly unrelated but very similar: Vimeo wasn't killed when Google purchased YouTube, nor was Facebook when Google acquired Orkut

It will be a different story if Twitter stops playing fair. If they close their platform, shut out other clients, THEN it will be an evil move. But as long as the platform remains open, competition will be slightly harder for Twitter clients, but the rules haven't changed and we're playing the same game.

Remember the Long Tail? Today's business is all about 'finding your niche'. Sure, Twitter just moved Tweetie to the left side of the tail, but there is a huge long tail of users and niches that people can still cater too. Spaz and other Twitter clients have unique properties that make users choose them as their Twitter clients. If they wouldn't have those, they would not have a chance against other Twitter clients no matter what big corporation owns them. In fact, I believe that this move by Twitter will lead to even more Twitter users as it becomes easier to start using Twitter on your phone. This means that the market increases, even for companies that build clients and other software on top of the Twitter platform.

Finally, this discussion is similar to Apple's OS4 announcement. By announcing their own gaming network and their own ad network, they struck a huge blow to existing networks such as OpenFeint and AdMob. These companies are now forced to compete with Apple by building a better product and differentiating their products. Will this kill them? Maybe, maybe not. In the end, it doesn't matter who owns what tools; the users determine what they will use and what products will survive.

And sometimes business is just like playing poker. If you're not willing to lose, you shouldn't play.

One Response to “Twitter Takes Tweetie. Good or bad?”

  1. April 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm, Ben Ramsey said:

    Ivo, you make a lot of good points, and I agree with you that Twitter has not killed the competition off. They’ve just made it a little harder. This is why I referred to it as “stifling” the competition, not killing it. Ideally, this could spur innovation in all Twitter clients, as they compete with the “official” client.

    You’re also right that this isn’t exactly Netscape vs. Microsoft since they haven’t closed their platform or begun forcing people to download their own app as part of registration, but how far off is that?

    In the future, when new users register for a Twitter account, as part of the setup process will they be taken to a screen asking them to download the official Twitter app? Will they be misled into thinking it is the only Twitter client available? If this happens, then it will start smacking of Netscape vs. Microsoft.

    Obviously, this would be a non-issue if Twitter started from day one with their own sanctioned client. After all, that’s what Plurk did, if I recall correctly, and it never really took off. Arguably, the reason Twitter has been so popular is due to the proliferation of third-party clients and an open model. If it had not been for that, then Twitter might never have gotten off the ground.