There’s been a lot written recently about Twitter and the choices it seems to be making about the future of the network, although the exact nature of those choices remains shrouded in mystery. Some say Twitter made the wrong choice when it decided to focus on advertising as a business model, rather than expanding its status as an open platform for others to build on, while others argue that doing this was the only possible move the company could make if it wanted to build a business. In many ways, this dilemma is the same one that confronts many media companies (which isn’t surprising, since we have argued that Twitter effectively is one) — namely, how much should you be a platform, and how much should you be a destination?
As entrepeneur Dalton Caldwell has noted, at some point during the past two years Twitter made a deliberate decision to de-emphasize its nature as a platform with a wide-open API that allowed developers to add functionality to the service. It’s fascinating to look now at a post that now-CEO Dick Costolo wrote on the Twitter blog in 2010, in which he describes what appears to be a very different future from the one Twitter has pursued — one in which a new feature called “Annotations” would allow the network to function as a real-time information utility, which other services could build into their offerings:
We will continue to move as quickly as we can to deliver the Annotations capability to the market so that developers everywhere can create innovative new business solutions on the growing Twitter platform.
Although Twitter has implemented some added functions that allow it to offer things like the new “expanded tweets” feature it is currently rolling out, Annotations as it was originally described never really came to be. Instead, the company chose to focus all of its efforts on becoming an advertising platform, with features such as “Promoted Tweets” and “Promoted Trends,” and partnerships with large brands and media players like Coca-Cola and MTV. And the more it has focused on advertising, the more it has confronted the kinds of challenges that media companies of all kinds are confronting.
It’s not just advertising as a business model that is the central challenge for Twitter, however, as it is for other traditional media players like the New York Times. It’s the inherent tension between the two potential futures that Caldwell mentions in his post: the one in which Twitter is an open platform with a robust API that allows other players of all kinds to build on top of the network — turning it into a sort of real-time news and information distribution utility or plumbing provider — and the one where the company becomes a media player in its own right, controlling the access to that information as tightly as possible, and monetizing the attention around that information via advertising.
The New York Times has experimented with open APIs, which give outside developers access to its data for use in third-party services or features, and so have a number of other newspapers and media companies such as USA Today and National Public Radio. But the traditional media player that has taken this idea the furthest is The Guardian newspaper in Britain (see disclosure below) — which launched an “open platform” project in 2010, offering all of its data to outside developers through an API. Doing this has been a core part of Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger’s concept of “open journalism.”
Full story at gigaom