Jack Dorsey, the man behind Twitter, first thought of the service as quick way to connect humans with each other. He did not think of it as a way to connect virtual pets. But in early 2008, it was Tamagotchi that accounted for about 30 percent of Twitter traffic. That’s right: real people were signing up their virtual pets for actual Twitter pages. Dorsey took notice, and the Japanese version of the service launched that April. Twitter, the company, is based in San Francisco, but Japan is arguably Twitter’s second home. Japanese is the second most used language on the service.
Of course, virtual pets are not the only reason for Twitter’s Japanese success. Japan’s famously adventurous mobile phone users have also contributed, helping make Japan a test bed for new Twitter ideas. A country full of adventurous Twitter users would seem like a good place for developers to create new Twitter applications. Kevin Makice thinks so, too. He told the Tamagotchi story in his book, Twitter API: Up and Running: Learn How to Build Applications with the Twitter API (O'Reilly Media, 2009). Makice argues that the best people to write new Twitter applications are not necessarily full-time developers, but active members of the Twitter community who see a good idea worth pursuing. Web site developers, who are often in a good position to see how people interact online, are most definitely qualified. Makice’s book is addressed to casual programmers who want to try.
By some estimates, there are already more than 50,000 Twitter applications created by third-party developers. Twitter has done its part here by not competing with them. The company’s unadorned website leaves developers plenty of opportunities for innovation. Twitter was also smart enough early on to provide an API, the essential toolkit for anyone building a Twitter application. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the only company Twitter has acquired did not make applications, but an API for searching?which Twitter now offers directly to developers. Makice writes that Twitter’s decision to open up the service to third-party development was “brilliant” and a key to the company’s early success. He calls the API simple and well-conceived, opening the door to new developers with good ideas. In turn, new Twitter users have signed on because some application has made the service more meaningful or accessible. Makice predicts that for Twitter, the company, 2010 will be the year of developer.
Makice is working on a PhD. at the Indiana University School of Informatics, focusing on how technologies can connect people in what must now be called “physical communities” (as opposed to the virtual ones). Twitter, of course, is a part of that.
Yours is the first book on the Twitter API. How did you come to write it?
I had been using Twitter since early 2007 when my wife and kids went away to the beach for spring break. She wasn’t going to have Internet access, but she did have a cell phone, which she set up to tweet through the text. So I was getting some hands-on experience on how Twitter can connect people. Meanwhile, a couple of publishers approached one of my professors, Jeff Bardzell, to write about Twitter. He had written about Adobe Macromedia and Flash, but was now focused on his research. So he recommended me.
The Twitter API is a tool for application development. What role have applications played in Twitter’
Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter without the application ecosystem. I would probably not be using Twitter, even today, if I had to go to the Twitter website for it. I first used an early program, Twitterific, because it brought tweets to me, rather than forcing me to go out and get them. That mattered even when my wife and I were communicating that spring break. Now, of course, there are other desktop clients that have that function and more. Which you choose is a matter of personal preference and working habits. These days, I use Tweetie, but I’m also looking at Qfeeder, which is still in beta. I like that it’s going to be more contextual in the way that it notifies you and summarizes the conversation.
What should website developers consider in using the Twitter API?
The first step for developers is to find an unfulfilled need that can really benefit the community?or create an application that helps expand Twitter’s base by bringing in new people. In other words, they should consider how the Twitter ecosystem works?and how they can improve it. A lot has been done, but there are still plenty of niches that can be addressed.
How much development activity is going on?
In the second half of 2009, the number of applications more than tripled. There are so many applications that we are now seeing tools to help people sort through them. For example, one website, oneforty, was created by Laura Fitton, author of Twitter for Dummies, and resembles the iPhone App Store, only for Twitter applications. They’ve got more than 2,000 apps registered. They take a cut of the payment, allow people to post reviews, and make it easy for developers to monetize their work. For new developers, this is also nice resource to see what’s already out there. But even if the idea has been done, you might still have a better one. I’ve noticed that there’s a limited life cycle for some of these applications. They come and go.