When a business has a problem, it has two avenues for solving it. It can either build its own solution or it can buy one from someone else. Many young companies opt to build their own solutions, since capital is in short supply.
Twitter is different. Capital hasn’t been a problem during its four years of operation, but the network is plagued with more shortcomings than the company could hope to address on its own.
Twitter could have made some tough calls about where to innovate and where to fall behind. Instead, it took a third path, allowing developers to create solutions in exchange for a chance to piggyback onto the network’s popularity. I’ve argued before that Twitter can’t go on being a piecemeal collection of apps — but with its acquisition of Atebits — the lead story in today’s SmartBrief on Social Media — a new question arises. Should Twitter build its own solutions or buy the developers that have helped keep the network relevant?
At first blush, the better move might be to freeze out the developers and create a robust platform in-house. Twitter is all grown up now, right? They’re going to announce a revenue model, and soon they’ll be raking in the cash. The temptation has to be there to scorn their developers and create in-house versions of all the best apps. I might love that as a consumer, but I think it’d be a mistake for Twitter in the long run.
Twitter’s app community is always going to be more robust and innovative than Twitter on its own could ever be. Rather than trying to compete with its greatest asset, the network needs to make deals with the best developers, possibly even making more acquisitions, so that the network continues to evolve. I think Twitter has come too far with its community to turn its back on them now.
Will buying app developers make Twitter a stronger network? Would Twitter be better off designing its own solutions in-house, rather than partnering with developers? Which solution is more likely to drive innovation?
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