Real time, right time – it’s all about ‘me’ – so what about Twitter?

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A recent article The Future of Mobile is Right Time Experiences by Maribel Lopez got me thinking about mobile and the future of the web.

It is an especially important topic to consider now that Twitter is seeking to further control and constrain the way that its users interact. A good outline of the issues at play here is Nick Bilton’s piece: For Twitter-Owned Apps and Sites, a Cacophony of Confusion.

At Web 2.0 Summit 2011 (video) Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, noted that he is inspired and ‘mentored’ by Apple. Any admiration for Apple and the way it does business is likely to be coupled with a desire to control the user experience.

The interesting thing to note is that control of the end user experience has never been a big part of the Twitter world. Instead their strength, and indeed a reason for their survival to date, has been a willingness to throw open their doors to a broad app ecosystem.  Further, significant innovations that have improved Twitter (e.g. hashtags) have come from the community and have been adopted by the company.

But Twitter is a company that is growing up, emerging from its startup phase and evolving into a ‘real’ business.  ‘Real’ businesses do things like consolidate infrastructure to better manage costs, and they seek to add layers of management control over the business.

This desire to control the user experience is fairly typical of a ‘real’ business.  It signifies the development of an organisation that is developing a command and control structure typical of the late twentieth century.

The problem is that end users of the platform have started to evolve beyond command and control models. We are using many different devices – PCs, tablets, smart phones – and we use them as we need and in different contexts.  We do not necessarily want the same experience across each device we use. Increasingly we are using a mobile rather than a fixed device, even in the home or office.

What we do want is the right experience in the right context.  We are hungry for a kind of ‘just right’ interaction with our favourite platforms. And we also seek to remove friction from our online interactions.  We flinch away from interactions that are scratchy, our friends say ‘come over here, it’s better and easier’, we use the power of our social networks to seek out the newest way to improve our online existence.

This means that the API revolution has arrived at just the right time to meet user needs.  And it means that businesses that resist the desire to exert absolute control over the user experience can harness a vibrant API ecosystem to power their business.

I think that consistency of user experience across multiple platforms is overrated. But I do wholeheartedly encourage consistency in APIs so as to enable rich user experiences that drive engagement on the user’s terms.

Businesses that fail to realise that the command and control world of the late twentieth century is dying risk killing their businesses.  It is already happening with the news media. It can happen with newer businesses too, such as social networks. As Mark Pesce noted we face a business environment that is “fast, frictionless, and on fire“.

Note: I had a brief chat about the recent changes to the Twitter consumer app ecosystem with Stilgherrian, Leslie Nassar, and Henare Degan on the Patch Monday podcast, one imagines it will be up on the ZDnet site in the fulness of time.

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