The Great Twitter Cull: Why Tumblr won't be the last to go

Twitter cuts Tumblr off and it won't be the last to go
That little bird looks so innocent and yet...

Twitter has made some controversial decisions lately and they're symptomatic of a company in flux.

First it cut Instagram off – and given that the site's arch-nemesis Facebook was in the process of buying the retro-filter-loving photo service, that didn't come as such a huge surprise to anyone.

LinkedIn was next to go, but then the two don't really jive well together anyway so the uproar was muted.

Then Twitter made some changes to its developer regulations; bringing in restrictions and user caps for third-party Twitter apps. More feathers were ruffled by this move than any other given how dependent Twitter has been on outside developers' ideas in the past.

But, with the news that Tumblr has now suffered a similar fate to that of Instagram, the brevity-favouring social network doesn't look likely to stop making these controversial, self-centred changes.

So what is Twitter's game plan?

Disabling the follower search function is more about cock-blocking the competition than anything else.

It may be hard to imagine a world without a never-ending scroll of pithy 140 character updates but let's not forget that Twitter only launched in 2006.

That makes it about 21 in web-years: the site is only just coming out of the difficult adolescent stage and now it's trying to decide what its place in the world is, where it should live, what it should do and how much it is worth to other people.

Its place in the world was basically assured when celebrities began signing up in their droves, when news outlets began trolling it for stories and when people cottoned on to how they could tweet their way to 15 minutes of fame.

But what it should do with itself and how much it is worth are still up for debate. Over the past couple of months Twitter has given us a few clues though.

Cash or card?

First up: cards. You'll have noticed Twitter cards creeping into your timeline if you still use the Twitter website. Since June, when someone posts a photo from certain apps, or a news item from a certain outlet or a video from YouTube, you'll see it embedded in an expanded tweet.

Only select partners can make use of cards so far – media outlets like the New York Times, TIME, Buzzfeed, video sites like YouTube and Vimeo and photo apps including Instagram and Twitpic.

But even being a partner in one area doesn't assure you unconditional Twitter love these days – Tumblr and Instagram were both early collaborators on Twitter cards and both have now been cut off.

Secondly: it wants your eyeballs. Twitter wants you to be reading tweets on Twitter, not on Tweetbot or Echofon or Tumblr. The reasons are twofold: first, it wants to start building a consistent experience across all its platforms. So if you're reading a tweet on, it should look the same on the Twitter for iPhone app, card and all.

Not all third-party apps can handle cards and some offer the (excellent) option to mute users and hashtags which Twitter is against because it doesn't want you to be able to hide advertisers and promoted tweeters.

But aside from the consistency of design (a mantra it has learnt at the altar of Apple), Twitter wants to make some money and it's best chance to do that is by mining all the data it has on all its users.

"What Twitter wants to know is where people's eyes are, how long for and how they're sharing information – by forcing more people to use its native apps and website Twitter will get more of this user data," Paul Armstrong, head of social at global media network Mindshare, explained to TechRadar.

"It's likely that they'll add more obvious advertising than sponsored tweets and promoted trends," he added.

Money money money

Yes, cutting third parties off is more about money than anything else. As Armstrong explains, "The strength of Twitter from an advertising perspective is the sponsored and promoted tweets – it works well for us.

"The important thing is to get the right message, at the right time, to the right people and that's something Twitter is very good at."

But if you're accessing Twitter from an app that is outside Twitter's control, then the site can't charge advertisers for your view and it can't learn anything new about your from your behaviour.

Disabling the follower search function is more about cock-blocking the competition; not only does it stop other social networks getting a headstart in user data, it means that Twitter's competition (LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr…) can't sell advertising against what Twitter sees as its own user data.

As Twitter's statement about writing Tumblr out of the will says, "We understand that there's great value associated with Twitter's follow graph data" – value it's not going to let its competition enjoy.

Great for Twitter, dismaying for other networks and downright annoying for users.

But, as The Guardian points out, it's the same thing that Facebook did to Google, and Google did back to Facebook back in the days of Google Buzz. No one wants to share "their" data, even though the data really and truly belongs to its users.

It'll be interesting to see what's next on Twitter's hitlist – but you can rest assured the network is playing the long-game: 140 characters might have been enough for the network once upon a time but there's going to be more to come, just you wait and see.

News Editor (UK)

Former UK News Editor for TechRadar, it was a perpetual challenge among the TechRadar staff to send Kate (Twitter, Google+) a link to something interesting on the internet that she hasn't already seen. As TechRadar's News Editor (UK), she was constantly on the hunt for top news and intriguing stories to feed your gadget lust. Kate now enjoys life as a renowned music critic – her words can be found in the i Paper, Guardian, GQ, Metro, Evening Standard and Time Out, and she's also the author of 'Amy Winehouse', a biography of the soul star.