Attending The Social Shake-up in Atlanta this week? Send us a note if you'd like to meet up at the event.

The Biggest Mistake Twitter Ever Made and Still Pays for to This Day


Over the years, I’ve loved and watched Twitter’s growth. Twitter has been through its ups and downs. While in the lowest bottoms of its stock price, a new exodus of top executives, like its recent COO “leaving” the company is fueling the debate of Twitter struggling to grow users and keeping them. It’s under fire to produce but also has been undercut by other platforms that have been wildly successful with users like Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc. How did the king of messaging in the new age get beaten out by newer smaller simplified apps? Ironically, while Facebook and others have learned that to be more successful they need to break up into more specific apps to drive user growth to compete, Twitter was ahead of this game early on.

Back in 2009 to 2010 techies in my circle would discuss who would come out a long distance winner, Facebook or Twitter. The results are in and its pretty obvious Facebook is winning. Over the years, the stories have come out that many of Twitters issues early on was infighting with management on the direction of the company. Chris Dixon, an angel investor, called Twitter in 2010 “a drunk guy with an Uzi.”

Twitter has always had a learning curve challenge with users historically trying it, leaving and sometimes coming back. It still haunts it to this day as Twitter struggles to compete for new users. Third party developers once made Twitter a hit BECAUSE they made apps that helped segment and make the platform usable, understandable and useful. Many of them showed Twitter where to take its product to be successful. Twitter was a massive hit at the time as third party developers acted primarily as evangelists and promoters of the platform. It was the best free advertising you couldn’t buy. The apps flooded the social media ecosystem and made Twitter dominate and popular at the time. Twitter had an advertising army in their pocket, not to mention all the social media consultants that helped promote it like myself. There were hundreds of innovative ways to use Twitter and it tapped an amazing source of ideas. In looking back, Twitter was far ahead of the curve when you see companies like Facebook and Google now breaking up their platforms into smaller segmented mobile apps.

Over a series of missteps in 2010 onward Twitter began destroying third party apps and relationships. In late 2010 Ev Williams admitted they had screwed up with third party developers, but it was too late. Developers were burned and moved on to make Apple iOS apps, Facebook Apps and others more favorable. While a few have endured to make Twitter more palpable and useful like Hootsuite (that I extensively use over the lame, crippled complex Twitter app), Twitter still struggles to have new users understand it and use it like other popular services that are stealing away its interests.

The biggest mistake Twitter ever made was killing off its third party developers. For a company that seems with recent departures to struggle with ideas and making the platform more accessible and usable, it certainly could have used the brain trust of all those developers and free advertising. Twitter now has viable competition from a solid group of messaging apps and with video becoming more mainstream in the future it needs to win that battle also. By 2018, 84% of Internet Traffic Will Be Video Content, how will Twitter compete?

Maybe Twitter should figure out how to incorporate third party developers once again? Twitters mobile native app is a nightmare confusing mess even I as a pro user avoid as it baffles my own mind, I cant imagine what new users feel.

The biggest questions are can Twitter ever recover from it from its 2010 misteps and how can it change and adapt? I hope for the best and that it learns from its past. I still love Twitter.

Join The Conversation

  • Jun 19 Posted 2 years ago alischaw

    Spot on analysis Chris. Twitter never did a good job of explaining how to use twitter. When I joined in 2009 it took a lot of effort to work it out by googling various forums and blogs that actually provided tips on the terminology and how to use the platform. It was only because I was motivated to use it that I persisted - for the casual passer by it would often feel impenetrable. I always thought it was bizarre that there was no guide when you set up an account. I always felt Twitter wasn't very marketing focused because of it.

    Re the app - totally agree. I adopted the echofon app as my interface after reading reviews and found that far more intuitive than Twitter. It would always amaze me how clunky the Twitter app was when I did try it and the same when I went back to the Twitter desktop. When Twitter revoked access to it's API for 3rd party developers I thought it was a dumb move.

    It's a shame because I felt a strong loyalty towards Twitter but I've found my own use has become more intermittent as other platforms compete for my time and interest. 

    With the departure of the COO, hopefully they will put someone in there with a strong user focus and also put in some incentives for third party development.

    Only time will tell. Being publicly listed though may not give them the time they actually need.

  • CHRISVOSS's picture
    Jun 18 Posted 2 years ago CHRISVOSS

    Great points Gail.  

  • GrowMap's picture
    Jun 18 Posted 2 years ago GrowMap

    If @Ev knows it was a mistake to cut off third party apps, why is it too late? They can encourage app developers to come back or even partner with them. There are many functions serious Twitter users would love to have and improvements they can make. 

    If I were Twitter, the first thing I would do is reach out to influencers like me who mentor other influencers. They are not doing a great job of sharing how to use their new features. Apparently, they are taking a hands-off approach to letting the few figure it out themselves. 

    They could be having people like us sharing with other power users how to add images. Right now, anyone who puts a decent image in a tweet is 20x more likely to have it retweeted. Few have that figured out after all this time. 

    Almost no one knows that header images are not fully visible on Android, iPhone or Twitter apps. The strange configuration of text on my @GrowMap header is because those are the only areas that appear to work on all devices (I hope). 

    More people would share videos if they knew that EVENTUALLY they WILL show up. Add a video to a tweet and it appears to not work. How many stop adding videos because they don't think they know how? 

    I recently found a post on how to use Twitter cards. One of these days I'll make time to actually figure that out and then I will teach others. If Twitter cared, they could support those efforts so they happen now instead of someday. 


  • James Meyer's picture
    Jun 15 Posted 2 years ago James Meyer

    Good article Chris. Thanks for your thoughts

Webinars On Demand

  • May 09, 2017
    With all of the technologies available to marketers today, have we lost that personal touch? Join VP of Content Marketing for ON24, Mark Bornste...
  • April 05, 2017
    In the ever-changing world of digital marketing, operational efficiency, quick turn-around times, testing and adapting to change are crucial to...