Twitter Reassures Developers at First DevCon

When Twitter CEO Evan Williams took that stage at the company's first-ever developer conference in San Francisco last week, he reassured developers that the spotlight-grabbing startup wouldn't be competing with them.

"Twitter has always been about developers," Williams said. "We have always believed in openness and an open ecosystem and the diversity of ideas and that is not changing."

And yet, developers building applications for the microblogging platform have had good reason lately to worry. The company recently bought the popular iPhone Twitter client app, Tweetie (now called "Twitter for the iPhone") and partnered with RIM to launch the "official" Twitter for the Blackberry. And the company announced at the conference plans to release an "official" Twitter for Android systems.

The company also has plans to launch its own URL shortening feature, which competes with services such as And it plans to build a database of locations all over the world threatens a number of third-party geolocation providers, such as Foursquare and Gowalla.

Williams said that, although his company will be maintaining its own database of locations (restaurants, hotels, points of interest, etc.), it also intends to make that database available to developers.

Perhaps adding to the anxiety of Twitter developers was a widely publicized blog posting that hit the Internet a week before the conference. In it, Fred Wilson, a Twitter investor from Union Square Ventures, suggested that Twitter developers should stop writing applications that fill holes in Twitter's core functionality. On April 7, he wrote:

"Much of the early work on the Twitter platform has been filling holes in the Twitter product… Some of the most popular third party services on Twitter are like that. Mobile clients come to mind. Photo sharing services come to mind. URL shorteners come to mind. Search comes to mind. Twitter really should have had all of that when it launched, or it should have built those services right into the Twitter experience."

Wilson challenged developers to look for the "non-obvious places" to build killer applications for the platform. "I think the time for filling the holes in the Twitter service has come and gone," he wrote.

Williams made Twitter's case for backing officially sanctioned applications at the conference. "We did the research," he said. "We were under serving users. We had to have a core application just like we did on the Web."

Williams also pushed developers to think "text" and "mobile" as they work on those killer applications. More than a third of Twitter users send their tweets from their mobile phones, he said. "It should be 100 percent."

Speaking on Thursday, Ryan Sarver, head of Twitter's platform development, showed off "user streams," a real-time data component for desktop applications. He said that the user streams API, which Twitter is making available to developers, will make virtually all of Twitter's data available in real time, including tweets, re-tweets, direct messages, favorites and "@" trends.

Twitter is also now supporting developers with a new Web portal

The developer conference, dubbed "Chirp," was Twitter's first. It also marked the first time the company disclosed official user numbers. Twitter co-founder and creative director Biz Stone revealed that Twitter currently has 105.8 million registered users, and it adds about 300,000 per day. Stone said that 75 percent of traffic comes from outside sources, mainly third-party applications, such as the TweetDeck desktop client and mobile clients.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].