Imagine if Tim Berners-Lee had held on to the World Wide Web.
For the first few years things would have been identical: web use would have exploded, driven largely by the efforts of third party developers who came up with new and amazing ways to use the web and who attracted users in their tens of thousands.
Then, when the web was a key part of many people's lives, Berners-Lee could have laid down the law. The web is my ball, he could have said, and if you don't play by my rules I'm taking it home! No more third party browsers! No HTML I don't like! No making money from my invention!
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Crazy, isn't it?
Tell that to Twitter.
Talk is cheep
Twitter has just published a document for developers that should really be called "Guys? Screw you guys." In a blog post, Twitter's Michael Sippey explains that Twitter really likes money and isn't so keen on developers. He doesn't use those exact words, of course, but he does explain how new API restrictions are going to make third party devs' lives considerably more difficult.
There are limits on how many users a third-party client can have, limits on how Tweets can be displayed and what appears to be a ban on sharing: "No other social or 3rd party actions may be attached to a Tweet."
You don't even need to read the post to see trouble brewing: there's a chart, one of those management ones where you've got one axis reading "potatoes", another saying "synergies", one more labelled "paradigms" and the final one marked "Krankies".
Twitter's one has what it sees the good stuff in the top left and the bad stuff in the top right: the former has "social CRM", "Enterprise Clients" and "Media Integration" while the other has "traditional Twitter clients" and "syndication".
Instapaper developer Marco Arment reckons things are about to get a whole lot worse: he predicts, probably correctly, that Twitter will soon "kill any clients' filter and mute features." We knew that Twitter didn't like third party Twitter clients, but it seems that Twitter also dislikes any software that connects to Twitter in any way at all.
Twitter knows best
22 best Twitter apps for 2012
You can summarise the document in three words: Twitter Knows Best. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that Twitter certainly doesn't know best: as Christopher Phin, editor of our sister title Tap!, tweeted this morning: "Things like the @reply, #hashtags, even the word 'tweet' were not invented by Twitter itself but by its users and third-party developers."
As I wrote previously, "What makes Twitter brilliant is the range of clients, the available options, the ability to make your Twitter experience as idiot-free as possible. By making the idiots the important thing, by prioritising their drivel above the things you want to read, and by telling everyone that there must only be One True Twitter client, there's a very real risk of babies and bathwater going out the window together."
That hasn't happened yet, but the API changes suggest that early adopters should probably listen out for splashing and crying: Twitter needed you then, but it doesn't need you now.