I acquired a twitter account a long time ago, but not a single friend of mine actually used the service, they all used pretty much only Facebook. So I followed a few random people, got bored quite quickly, and left it dormant.
One day, I was having trouble logging onto my banking service and I couldn’t figure out if it was just me, or if the bank was having dramas. All of a sudden, I had a brain wave. Search twitter to see if anyone else in the world was whinging about this problem. I did, and sure enough, there were a good handful of people complaining about the exact same problem I was having, and I was assured it wasn’t just me, but the bank having difficulties. The bank later confirmed this, and I realised I had stumbled across a great feature of twitter’s that certainly wasn’t promoted as one of it’s primary features.
Over the following couple of years, whenever I needed to find out about something that was happening live, or search something that may or may not have happened extremely recently, I would log onto my otherwise stagnant twitter account and run a search to find the information I needed. I usually met with great success.
After I took up blogging, I started becoming a regular user and poster on twitter, and got into a bit of a flow with it and found a place for it in my life that was more regular. Until I discovered app.net and I now prefer that service. But the twitter search feature is still extremely useful. Yesterday someone I follow on twitter was complaining about a sexist ad he had seen, and when I remarked about my desire to see the ad, he googled it but came up short. I ran a quick search on twitter and immediately found other people griping about the same ad, with links to it on youtube. I was once again impressed with this unadvertised feature of twitter’s that is so profoundly useful.
And therein lies the basis for my intrigue. There are things we build that have ancillary benefits to potential users, that we see as nothing more than “extras” but may in fact be the main reason for people using our service or product. For me for a long time, twitter’s main service was a real time search engine.
Apple discovered recently how many people don’t buy a phone, but buy a trendy portable navigation device. But at least they eventually acknowledged this and promised to get the service up to par asap, and even suggested using their competitor’s in the interim.
I am amazed when I see my children using their toys in ways unexpected, and I have no problem making tools in my life perform tasks they perhaps weren’t originally intended for.
But twitter does not seem to realise what they could be building. By locking down their API, putting new restrictions on it, they are basically saying to the world “you’re doing it wrong, we know what twitter should be and it’s not evolving any other way”. Which is fine, except the people that were using the service for anything other than what twitter intended will have little reason to hang around, and if someone can offer what twitter does AND the services twitter doesn’t want to provide, then why does twitter even need to exist?
Here’s a great example. I was using “if this then that” (ifttt.com) with twitter to keep abreast of any mention of my city on twitter. Basically, if someone tweeted with the word “Geraldton” I would get an email stating the fact and linking to the tweet. This service kept me connected to twitter, and allowed me to know when someone near me was using the service, asking questions or passing through. Very handy. There were other key words that were very interesting to be alerted on too. But twitter decided they didn’t want to provide that service any more. Even though it gave me reason to log back in to twitter and stay in the habit of using.
Additionally, twitter was often used by people to cross post. I’m not saying I like cross posting per se, but a lot of people using app.net (ADN) would post on twitter and have ifttt send the tweet to ADN. NO MORE! says twitter. So people that were using it are thinking they will just post to ADN instead and have ifttt sent the post to twitter. So twitter has given people another reason to not bother using or logging into their service.
There used to be a lot of other cool things you could do with ifttt using twitter, but they are all shut down now, except for the ability to send data TO twitter. I have pretty much decided to go and live on ADN now and not bother too much with twitter at all.
The developers of app.net seem to have an entirely different attitude with regards to the future of their service. And it’s not just the fact that people pay for the service and it has no ads. It’s the fact that they (the founders) believe in humanity enough to give people a lot of space to play and come up with ideas that may seem out of the box.
This is from a recent ADN press release:
We envision a developer ecosystem that supports a wide variety of applications, applications which look very different than alpha.app.net. For example, we expect to see App.net-enabled games (a simple chess app has already been created), group messaging, collaboration, and frankly things that we haven’t thought of.
Flickr is another service I like, but I don’t use it to socialize or browse other people’s photos. The only thing I use it for is to park all my pictures I or my wife take on our iPhones securely and in their original quality safely and conveniently in the cloud. I happily pay the fee, and I have found a third party app that will allow me to upload all my photos just by opening the app (camerasync). When I read Flickr’s website selling itself, it doesn’t appear that this is the service they intended on providing, but that is what I want and I am glad they haven’t shut it down.
Facebook see themselves as the ultimate social network, and it’s true they are. And while it’s true I use FB for keeping in touch with people to a point, that has waned over time. But I like the ability to post things from my iPhone to be able to be viewed by ONLY ME. I use this a kind of diary, making a note that my child did or said such and such on a certain day. It’s not information I want to broadcast, but I might like to look back and think fondly of the memory one day in the future. Having FB as a diary might not earn FB the revenue they are aiming for, but it’s a service I don’t want to lose all the same. Charge me for it if you need to, but don’t handicap me.
If you have a clear picture of what the product you are creating is meant to do, you may do well by locking down it’s functionality and prohibiting any use of it that you are unable to monetize. But be warned, in doing so you may also create your own ceiling, and give birth unnecessarily to competitors.