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Thread started by Dave Winer on Saturday, September 29, 2012.

Twitter is a tragic tale

I've known Chuck Shotton since 1995, early days of the Mac web community. I was doing Frontier, an editing and database environment that turned out to be an almost perfect match for web design and programming. Chuck was doing WebStar, the leading HTTP server for the Mac. Our products complemented each other well, and we've been friends ever since.

I wrote a piece yesterday about Twitter needing a plan B for developers, and Chuck left a comment which I think is worth quoting in full:

Since day 1, I have been unimpressed with Twitter's management team and their ability to grasp the potential of their own platform and capitalize on all the huge opportunities that could come from it. This is just more of the same from them. "Let's take what could be the single biggest transformational change in peer messaging on the Internet and dismantle its value, bit by bit, over the next 5 years and see if anyone notices before we're dead."

What Chuck says is true.

And we still need to create the layer that Twitter could have created.

This has always been the disagreement between financial types and tech types. We want to make progress, that's why we got into this field in the first place. I want to be part of creating new layers of technology. So we can be ever more powerful. I like making money, and have made some -- but for me it's just one priority. And once I had enough money to own my own time, it dropped a lot as a priority. I love what I do, but the financial guys mock my love. I've seen them do it over and over, for decades. Jim Manzi, who was then CEO of a big software company, accused me of being Mother Teresa. He wasn't trying to be funny (or if he was, it didn't work).

They think that the only reason to create something is to make money. The more money the better. They're not wrong. When I buy stock in a company, I want them to feel the same way. I say this to counter their belief that I'm stupid or naive. I understand why the VCs want to maximize profits. But I don't think they're doing that. Because they've made a trade-off. By reducing Twitter to sell it as an advertising channel, they are cutting off possibilities that might make money from a wide-open market. And some might make a lot more money than the platform. I don't doubt that will eventually be the lesson of Twitter.

As an example, who made more money off the PC -- IBM or Microsoft?

Would IBM be better off if they had been able to foreclose on the openness of the PC platform (they tried and failed), or if they had invested in Microsoft?

There comes a time when a platform has a choice whether the innovation should take place inside their own walls or to let chaos reign in the open market. Having been around this loop a few times, I think the optimal approach is for, after getting to a certain point, the platform vendor to transition from being a programming shop to being a distributor and financier. The choice is between investing in employees or entrepreneurs. The latter is a better choice, always. You just have to look at the history of tech companies to see that.

Instead, Twitter is going to invest in employees. They won't be able to find enough. There will be disappointment. And there will be competitors. And in a while there will be another shiny new thing. With any luck one of them will be open and the platform will take a back seat to the innovation. And then Twitter will look like a very small place.

Update: There's a Hacker News thread for this piece.

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