As Twitter improves website, app makers push tweets in other directions
Twitter engineer Alex Payne upset a flock of third-party developers recently when he boasted about new features the company plans to roll out to its website. "If you had some of the nifty site features that we Twitter employees have, you might not want to use a desktop client," he wrote on his Twitter page.
Software makers feared that Twitter was trying to squeeze them out. Payne did damage control -- all of these tweaks are built on top of options we've already given to developers, he pleaded.
But developers who had built countless products and entire companies on the back of the social network remained understandably concerned. Rather than butt heads with the beast, some are looking at other ways to aggregate and display tweets.
Twitter had struggled with unprecedented growth practically since its launch. For the first few years, the company spent the majority of its resources not on building new features or making money but rather on optimizing code and investing in servers to keep the site running. The service's unreliability "almost killed us," site creator Jack Dorsey said last year.
Now that investors are plentiful, revenue from search deals is flowing and "fail whales" (the alert indicating the service is down) are few, Twitter is building upon its website.
On Wednesday Twitter added the option to automatically include your location with tweets from its website. It recently launched a vastly improved version of its mobile site, one of the fastest-growing phone-optimized sites on the Web, according to ComScore. Last month, the company rolled out a sleek new ability called Hovercards.
Brizzly maintains a competing Web interface that, above all, offers support for seamlessly switching among multiple profiles. Twitter has yet to integrate such a feature.
Thing Labs, which makes Brizzly, announced two new products Wednesday. One, the Guide, expands on a smaller feature of the company's current product, creating a sort of news page that relies on Twitter's trending topics and Wikipedia-style crowd-sourcing.
The other is a free iPhone application built by the creator of the critically acclaimed Birdfeed app. Birdfeed was among the pricier Twitter software in the App Store, and the Brizzly app packs many of those features while undercutting the competition.
Although Twitter has a bustling mobile site, the company shows no sign of building an official iPhone app. Brizzly previously indicated that it planned to attack mobile with a Web app rather than a native app that needs to be downloaded. After all, Thing Labs has the creator of Google Reader's mobile site.
But Thing Labs founder Jason Shellen pointed out that "uploading photos just isn't possible from a mobile website," he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. "We wanted something that felt quick and responsive but could maybe do heavier lifting down the road."
Take that, mobile.twitter.com.
Tweetie, Loren Bricther's standout iPhone app, is adding a feature that integrates Foursquare, a competitor in the location-based social networking space. Don't expect Twitter itself to do that any time soon.
TweetDeck, a high-end desktop app, is prominently promoting its unique directory of Twitter personalities front and center. Digg also has a Twitter directory called WeFollow. Twitter's own phone book of sorts is limited to several dozen profiles in 20 categories rather than several thousands in the others.
Meanwhile, Seesmic, which has both desktop, mobile and Web-based clients, gives top billing on its site to a new product called Seesmic Look. The Windows program is designed with tablet computers in mind and caters to Twitter newbies.
To predict the future of Twitter apps, you might want to look where Twitter, the company, isn't.
-- Mark Milian
Photo: Twitter Chief Executive Evan Williams. Credit: Associated Press