I just returned home from Chirp, Twitter’s developer conference in San Francisco, where I had the chance to participate on a panel about investing in the Twitter ecosystem. Between the panel, the rest of the conference, and some 1:1 conversations with Twitter execs, I have a handful of takeaways for Twitter ecosystem developers:
First, get over the fact that Twitter aims to be a profitable business and will build or buy features necessary to make its product offering complete. Yes, there will some tension between Twitter’s pursuit of its own business and the well being of all its developers. Welcome to life in a profit-oriented platform ecosystem. But Twitter knows it needs the support of a great developer community, and it will figure out how to manage this tension and still support a vibrant ecosystem. So don’t freak out, just be smart.
For example, look for verticals where some creativity, focus and great product development can create real value. Twitter is going to look to own horizontal layers of the ecosystem; it is really unlikely that, at least in the foreseeable future, it will have the resources or inclination to exploit particular vertical categories.
Focus on the data. This was reiterated several times by my fellow panelists, and I agree. Twitter and Twitter apps generate a treasure trove of data, and Twitter seems keen to share that data with third-party developers. If I were a developer, I would be spending a lot of my time thinking about leveraging this data to create real value for consumers or businesses.
Don’t limit yourself to Twitter. While Twitter is largely responsible for pushing the web from websites to streams, this shift goes beyond just Twitter. Today it is Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. So think about how your product and your business can apply across a range of streams, not just the Twitter stream.
Stay lean and flexible. In case you haven’t noticed, things are moving incredibly quickly these days on the web. Like everyone else, Twitter is going to make some abrupt bobs and weaves along the way, and despite its best intentions, some of these moves will result in collateral damage. Count on this happening, stay on your toes, and be ready to pivot when it does. The better Facebook developers have this as part of their playbook, and so should you.
Finally, don’t be afraid to talk to the guys and gals at Twitter about where they are going and how your vision relates to their direction. If there was one thing to take away from Chirp, it’s that the Twitter team is serious about being accessible to its ecosystem partners. Take advantage of this.
Mike Hirshland is a General Partner at Polaris Venture Partners. He blogs at vcmike.wordpress.com. Mike represents Polaris as a director on the boards of Automattic (WordPress), Hangout Industries, KISSmetrics, LolApps, Quantcast, Sproutbuilder, The Start Project (where Mike is a co-founder), and Thing Labs, Inc. (Brizzly). Mike led Polaris’ investments in Black Arrow, Q1 Labs, and Stickybits. He formerly served as Chairman of Ucentric Systems, which was acquired by Motorola. Mike also was instrumental in Polaris’ creation and launch of Dogpatch Labs.