Twitter to continue duplicating external apps

Twitter Co-Founder Evan Williams was unapologetic on Wednesday about his company's recent decisions to build features for the site that duplicate and often render irrelevant applications created by third-party developers.

"We won't make our product worse because other people say: 'You haven’t done that yet, so we own that," he said at Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco where he was interviewed on stage by conference co-chair John Battelle.

The tension between Twitter and its vast and vibrant community of external developers has been growing this year, as the company has built native components to the microblogging service although third-party applications already exist for the duplicated functionality.

"We’ll keep making our products better and looking for ways for third-party developers to add value," Williams said.

Twitter didn't plan on becoming an application platform provider when it published its APIs shortly after launching the service in 2006, he said. If it had intended to do it, it would have been more deliberate and careful about the platform's design.

As things developed, Twitter spent years focused on improving the service's backend infrastructure so that it could scale and keep up with its meteoric popularity. It often ran into performance problems that lead to embarrassing and lengthy outages.

Because it paid little to no attention to extending and improving the product, external developers seized the opportunity, Williams said, likening Twitter to a Model T Ford.

However, that changed this year, when Twitter created its own mobile client applications, a move that Williams said has helped tremendously its mobile usage.

Twitter is now testing its own usage analytics service, another area for which third-party applications exist, and on Wednesday Williams didn't rule out a significant improvement of the site's photo display and discovery functionality.

"We need to create a better photo experience but haven’t determined exactly what that is," said Williams, who recently gave up the CEO job to focus more on product development.

Asked by Battelle what type of tool and application is "safe" for developers to build for Twitter, Williams answered bluntly: "I don't know."

End users can expect Twitter to improve the site's capacity to surface relevant "tweets" to them and to suggest other people to follow, he said. "That's a big theme for us."

The company's Promoted Tweets advertising program, launched in April as its main revenue-generating engine, has been working out much better than expected, he said. "The math looks good," he said. "We're pleasantly surprised."

One area where there is little to no progress to report is in ongoing discussions between Twitter and Facebook on ways to more tightly integrate their functionality, he said.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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