Developer platforms are all about trust, and Twitter lost it

Twitter is where the world shares its opinions and aspirations; it’s where brands, celebrities, and politicians interact with people, live and in the open.

From 2006 to 2012, Twitter’s public API was free for all, which developers took advantage of to build a wide range of value-add services (like TweetDeck) for the growing community. But after 2012, Twitter sharply curbed data access, eroding developer trust. To help reverse this trend and enable the developer community to flourish, Twitter acquired my startup, Reshuffle, in May 2021.

After the acquisition, Jack Dorsey and Bruce Falk (former CEO and GM of Revenue Products, respectively) charged me with re-opening the Twitter API. This came after I gave harsh feedback as an external developer in a public forum to Twitter’s leadership about how broken the developer platform was and the investment needed to correct it.

I told them that with proper attention, we could create a delightful and successful platform that gave developers the tools and APIs to thrive and improve Twitter’s user experience. Paraphrasing Ned Segal, Twitter’s then-CFO: “Amir told us how broken it is, so we bought his company to fix it.”

My startup and I joined an amazing, small team working to revive the Twitter developer platform. In addition to making sure developers had a growing suite of API endpoints that allowed them to build successful solutions, the team was also migrating the old API to new GraphQL-based infrastructure. On November 15, 2021, we officially launched the new Twitter V2 API, which was met with a lot of developer love and excitement.

But our ambition was bigger than that.

Dorsey and the board funded us even further (gave us approval to hire 50 more people) to build something much bigger — something they had been wanting to build for a long time. The vision was to make Twitter a true developer platform. We wanted developers to create in-Twitter apps that interact with users.

We envisioned a world in which you could share your favorite song from Spotify and listen to it live with all your followers on Twitter. We wanted you to be able to share your donation to your favorite cause and get your followers to donate as well through an integrated, GoFundMe-style experience. We wanted you to play Wordle inside Twitter, not just share the results. We wanted you to be able to interact with developer-powered apps inside the Twitter user experience.

That was just the beginning: we also envisioned a true decentralization of the Twitter timeline. We wanted to let developers create and share their own timelines.

We were excited and looking forward to announcing our vision to developers at Chirp last month, and now that vision is just an opening keynote document, lost on my bricked Twitter computer.

Interested in tech? Here’s the TechCrunch-curated timeline. Interested in video games? Here is Twitch’s games and streamers timeline. Custom Timelines were the superhero evolution of Twitter Lists, giving developers advanced powers to curate and create their favorite topics, or do so on behalf of others.

The next part of our plan was to create a discovery mechanism, something like a store to discover and install these apps and timelines. We even started to explore the possibility to let developers monetize these experiences.

In the past year, we started to launch experiments around all these experiences.

We launched the tiles experiment, which was the first step towards apps:

Today we’re beginning to test Tweet Tiles with @nytimes, @wsj and @guardian. Tweet Tiles will let developers extend the Tweet experience and will pave future innovation for our @TwitterDev developer community

— Amir Shevat (@ashevat) August 25, 2022

We launched the timeline experiment, the first step towards open, custom timelines:

Today we launched a new custom Timeline experiment – just one of the many things we’re working on over at @TwitterDev There is a lot of potential for the developer community to build features like this in the future, and we are just getting started. Congrats to the team!

— Amir Shevat (@ashevat) July 11, 2022

Twitter launched the toolbox, our first discovery experiment:

Put the NEW Twitter Toolbox to work for you. These ready-to-use tools are low-cost and built by our developer community to help you get even more out of Twitter.

— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) February 1, 2022

We pulled all that off during the rollercoaster of Twitter’s acquisition period. We believed (quite mistakenly) that Elon would spend time understanding the range of projects within Twitter and their impact on the public conversation. We believed that the developer platform was a crucial piece of his outspoken vision for an “everything app.” We were excited to present our vision to him, hopeful that he would be excited by our vision.

And then, on November 4, we were fired. Our work computers were bricked in the middle of the night and emails appeared in our personal accounts telling us we were fired.

According to one of our engineers’ public Tweets, two people remain out of our 100+ person organization. All our dreams and plans for developers were blown to dust.

When I joined Twitter, I’d told Dorsey, “We cannot mess this up. We can fix the relationship between developers and Twitter only once. If we blow this chance, I would not hire a developer that trusts our platform ever again.”

That’s because when developers start building on a platform, they’re making a bet that it will continue to exist with a high degree of stability. It’s a lot of work to build on a platform, and developers have been burned in the past by unsuccessful platforms such as Windows Mobile, and unreliable ones like some of the Facebook API.

I have worked on some of the best platforms out there — from Android and Sharepoint to Twitch and Slack — and they all have one thing in common: openness and trust.

Last month, we broke that trust, and I am sorry I couldn’t stop that from happening. I wake up in the middle of the night still thinking about it. We were excited and looking forward to announcing our vision to developers at Chirp last month, and now that vision is just an opening keynote document, lost on my bricked Twitter computer.

A developer once asked me how we could ensure that Twitter would continue to maintain and invest in this developer platform. My answer was, “As long as we have this amazing team our leadership tasked with building the platform, developers will see that we are serious about it, and I will let you know when that changes.”

Let this be my personal notice to Twitter developers: the team is gone, the investment has been undone. Love does not live here anymore.

The team that built the Twitter developer platform is amazing. They will build awesome platforms for developers and other developer tools in other companies. I am honored to have worked with each and every one of them.

As for me, as I move forward and transition into the venture capital world, I intend to invest in impactful developer platforms — ones that are committed to being open and trustworthy.

Developer platforms are all about trust, and Twitter lost it by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

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