App dot not

With a big last-minute push from all the internet celebrities who signed up for it early, the perplexing surged past its $500k Kickstarter-like goal this weekend and is going to be a thing. What kind of thing and why a bunch of smart people want that thing is still a mystery to me.

The nominal reasons people give for backing are pretty simple. Brent Simmons laid out most of them a couple of days ago:

I’d say things like “because I fucking hate ads” and “because I fucking hate celebrities” and “because I fucking hate trending topics.”

The other reason that’s often mentioned is Twitter’s ominous behavior toward third-party client programs.

As best I can tell, there’s no real desire for itself, these are all just complaints about Twitter. Let’s look at each of them.

I’m going to combine the “hate celebrities” and “hate trending topics” complaints into a single “hate stupidity” beef. This is both the most common complaint and the one that makes the least sense. No one is forcing you to follow Justin Bieber or any of his fans. And there’s no requirement for you to wade through the morass of dumbth that is Trends (née Trending Topics). I know there’s a yearning for the good ol’ days when everyone on Twitter was strong, good-looking, and above-average, but unless your Twitter ID number is under 100, there’s never been a time when you didn’t have to be selective about who you followed. And Twitter has always given you control over what you see in your home timeline.

Or nearly so. Twitter has been mixing ads (“Promoted Tweets”) into everyone’s timeline on the home page, but as far as I know, those haven’t made their way into the official Twitter apps, at least not since the Dickbar debacle of last year. They certainly aren’t showing up in the home timeline that the API serves.

I would, of course, prefer no ads, but even if they started coming through the API, I can’t say I’d be all that bothered by it. (The Dickbar caused such a stir because it was really, really intrusive and it forced you to look at Trending Topics in addition to the occasional ad.) After all, I read several blogs—some from people who are backing—that mix ads into their RSS feeds.

Which brings us to the issue of third-party apps. Twitter has recently cut off some functionality to both LinkedIn and Instagram, and this, combined with Twitter’s own statements over the past year or so, has people worried that it may cut off apps like Tweetbot and Twitterific entirely. My feeling is that the LinkedIn and Instagram examples are special cases that have more to do with tribal warfare among social media companies than with a true crackdown on third-party clients.

If Benjamin Mayo’s figures are right, 20-25% of tweets come from third-party clients. Although Mayo thinks otherwise, I think that’s a big enough number to make Twitter hold off on lowering the boom on Echophon and HootSuite and their kin. And if Twitter folds ads into the home timeline, there’ll be no need to do so.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of those who complain about the (potentially) shabby treatment of Twitter app developers are either developers themselves or good friends with developers. If everyone hated Craig Hockenberry, I bet this would be less of a concern.

An unstated, but I think powerful, motivation for people to sign up for is the fear that it will take off and you’ll be late to the party. Too late, perhaps, to get the username you want. One of’s appeals is thinly veiled extortion. Nice Twitter handle you got there. Would be a shame if somebody else took it.

I guess the real question is whether those who’ve signed up for are actually prepared to leave Twitter for it. So far, it looks like most of them are still tweeting, and I’m curious as to how many of them can leave. John Gruber, for example, makes his living by getting people to read Daring Fireball, and he’s said that most of his referral traffic comes by way of links on Twitter. Can he afford to disengage from it?

Gruber may well be a special case; I can imagine him being able to leave Twitter with no ill effects. But it’s hard to believe that less popular bloggers—and pretty much everyone is less popular—will be able to do so. And if they can’t, will they really want to maintain a presence on both networks? If they have to choose one or the other, you know which one they’ll stay with.