When we discuss the future of Twitter, we focus on the mechanisms through which we can build a platform of enduring value. The three mechanisms most important to building such a platform are architecting for extensibility, providing a robust API to the platform’s functionality, and ensuring the long-term health and value of the user experience.
The purpose of this post is to explain what we are building, how we will sustain the company and ecosystem, and where we believe there will be great opportunities for the vast ecosystem of partners.
Twitter is an open, real-time introduction and information service. On a daily basis we introduce millions to interesting people, trends, content, URLs, organizations, lists, companies, products and services. These introductions result in the formation of a dynamic real-time interest graph. At any given moment, the vast network of connections on Twitter paints a picture of a universe of interests. We follow those people, organizations, services, and other users that interest us, and in turn, others follow us.
To foster this real-time open information platform, we provide a short-format publish/subscribe network and access points to that network such as http://www.twitter.com, m.twitter.com and several Twitter-branded mobile clients for iPhone, BlackBerry, and Android devices. We also provide a complete API into the functions of the network so that others may create access points. We manage the integrity and relevance of the content in the network in the form of the timeline and we will continue to spend a great deal of time and money fostering user delight and satisfaction. Finally, we are responsible for the extensibility of the network to enable innovations that range from Annotations and Geo-Location to headers that can route support tickets for companies. There are over 100,000 applications leveraging the Twitter API, and we expect that to grow significantly with the expansion of the platform via Annotations in the coming months.
Our responsibilities extend from there. Twitter is responsible for the health, reliability, and scale of the network, Twitter-branded endpoints (SMS, a twitter client on the web and other most popular platforms, Twitter-branded widgets), a consistent user experience, and a sustaining revenue model for the platform. We will provide the best possible experience for each of these.
We heard loud and clear at our Chirp Developer Conference last month that developers desire clarity—clarity about what we believe Twitter must provide, what Twitter looks to the ecosystem to provide, and where the lines, if any, are drawn. We have outlined above the services and responsibilities we will provide in the context of the platform. In order to provide further clarity to the ecosystem, we will also be specific about the boundaries we will draw in order to preserve the integrity, health, and value of the network.
We now employ over 200 people, and we plan to grow this investment as the opportunity demands. To sustain this investment, we have announced Promoted Tweets. These tweets will exist primarily in search and then in the timeline, but in a manner that preserves the integrity and relevance of the timeline. As we have announced, we will use innovative metrics like Resonance so that Promoted Tweets are only shown when they make sense for users and enhance the user experience.
As our primary concern is the long-term health and value of the network, we have and will continue to forgo near-term revenue opportunities in the service of carefully metering the impact of Promoted Tweets on the user experience. It is critical that the core experience of real-time introductions and information is protected for the user and with an eye toward long-term success for all advertisers, users and the Twitter ecosystem. For this reason, aside from Promoted Tweets, we will not allow any third party to inject paid tweets into a timeline on any service that leverages the Twitter API. We are updating our Terms of Service to articulate clearly what we mean by this statement, and we encourage you to read the updated API Terms of Service to be released shortly.
Why are we prohibiting these kinds of ads? First, third party ad networks are not necessarily looking to preserve the unique user experience Twitter has created. They may optimize for either market share or short-term revenue at the expense of the long-term health of the Twitter platform. For example, a third party ad network may seek to maximize ad impressions and click through rates even if it leads to a net decrease in Twitter use due to user dissatisfaction.
Secondly, the basis for building a lasting advertising network that benefits users should be innovation, not near-term monetization. Twitter is uniquely dependent on and responsible for the long-term health and value of the platform. Accordingly, a necessary focus of Promoted Tweets is to explore ways to create value for our users. Third party ad networks may be optimized for near-term monetization at the expense of innovating or creating the best user experience. We believe it is our responsibility to encourage creative product development and to curb practices that compromise innovation.
It is important to keep in mind that Twitter bears all the costs of maintaining the network, protecting the Tweet stream against spam, supporting user requests, and scaling the service. Indeed, Twitter will bear many of the support costs associated with any third-party paid Tweets, as Twitter receives support emails related to anything a user sees in a tweet stream. The third-party bears few of these costs by comparison.
There has never been more opportunity for innovation on the Twitter platform than there is now. In order to continue to provide clarity, our guiding principles include:
1. We don’t seek to control what users tweet. And users own their own tweets.
2. We believe there are opportunities to sell ads, build vertical applications, provide breakthrough analytics, and more. Companies are selling real-time display ads or other kinds of mobile ads around the timelines on many Twitter clients, and we derive no explicit value from those ads. That’s fine. We imagine there will be all sorts of other third-party monetization engines that crop up in the vicinity of the timeline.
3. We don’t believe we always need to participate in the myriad ways in which other companies monetize the network.
Platforms evolve. When Annotations ship, there are going to be many new business opportunities on the Twitter platform in addition to those currently available. We know that companies and entrepreneurs will create things with Annotations that we couldn’t have imagined. Companies will emerge that provide all manner of rich data and meta-data services around and in Tweets. Twitter clients could begin to differentiate on their ability to service different data-rich verticals like Finance or Entertainment. Media companies in the ecosystem can begin to incorporate rich tagging capabilities. Much has been written about the opportunities afforded by Annotations because those that understand the benefits of extensible architectures understand their power and potential.
We understand that for a few of these companies, the new Terms of Service prohibit activities in which they’ve invested time and money. We will continue to move as quickly as we can to deliver the Annotations capability to the market so that developers everywhere can create innovative new business solutions on the growing Twitter platform.
We hope that this clarity of purpose, focus, and roadmap helps point a clear way forward for the thousands of companies in the Twitter ecosystem.