It may be my age, but I’m confused when I read that Twitter is somehow evil by acting competitively towards their developers, or that there is no future in being a Twitter developer. I think what they mean is that Twitter is becoming increasingly competitive with developers who try to replace Twitter.com. But isn’t that obvious? Why do people think that Twitter.com doesn’t have the right to increase the functionality of their own site, and try to make it more attractive? Of course, Twitter will mimic the most successful applications of this type. Wouldn’t you?
That doesn’t mean there is no future in Twitter application development. It is just that people have forgotten what a platform is. Many years ago there were software companies that created products, like programming languages, operating systems, and databases that provided functionality for programmers to use in serving client’s needs. These programmers were called developers when they built stand-alone products, and consultants when they wrote code for specific clients. The major difference between then and now was that platform vendors were able to charge for their code. This naturally put their interests into alignment with outside programmers. Platform vendors needed programmers to write for their platform, so they were smart to leave room for others to make money too.
Then the Internet removed most of the platforms, and the programming languages all became free. Developers all tried to get rich by building and flipping code, and consultants devoted most of their time to building custom websites. We are entering an era of platforms again, specifically Twitter and Facebook, but programmers haven’t accepted that they are less likely to get rich by whipping up a cool application based on these platforms and giving it away. The one company that really gets the idea of being a platform is Apple, but they have institutional memory that goes back to before the Internet.
We need to shift our perspective and programmers have to actually find paying customers, who have needs to fill for their own businesses. No matter what Twitter does, there will always be lots of money to be made creating custom applications that solve real-world business problems. Programmers just have to start thinking of themselves as consultants, and find clients who need their code badly enough to pay for it. That doesn’t preclude making a lot of money, but it does mean that Twitter doesn’t have to be feared as a competitor.
Does anyone honestly think that Twitter will try to write and sell its own real estate applications, medical applications, time and billing applications, etc? The field is wide open. Just leave Twitter.com to Twitter, and they’ll leave you alone. They might even help you make money.