So what's the best way to encourage third parties to add value to your software platform? Money, of course. The ideal independent software developer -- known in the industry as an ISV, or independent software vendor -- is an entrepreneur, someone who can recognize the untapped opportunities inherent in your platform and translate them into marketable products. The developers who access the Twitter APIs aren't just launching projects, they're launching small businesses.
But when you market your service as a business opportunity, you have to be able to hold up your end of the bargain. The invention of the telephone created dozens of new industries, from telemarketing to 24-hour tech support. Now imagine where all those companies would be if the global telephone networks regularly went offline for hours at a time. Poof!
Unfortunately for Twitter, uptime has never been its strong suit. For avid Tweeters, the infamous "fail whale" -- the image displayed when Twitter.com is experiencing technical difficulties -- is an all-too-familiar sight. Add a recent spate of DDoS attacks into the bargain, and the result is a painfully unreliable service, and by extension, some less-than-thrilled ISVs.
ISVs are along for the ride
Paul Kinlan of Twollo.com hit the nail on the head when he explained the problem to IDG News Service: It's not just the downtime that hurts, but who gets blamed for the downtime. "We are the interface to our clients, not Twitter," Kinlan says, "and we have to actively manage our customers' expectations of Twitter. We lose business when Twitter is down."
As a result of the recent Twitter outages, Kinlan was forced to issue refunds to unhappy customers who had paid for the premium version of Twollo.com's add-on service. It seems premium pricing just doesn't seem worthwhile when even the basic level of service isn't available.
This is the dilemma facing developers who hitch their fortunes to the APIs of burgeoning online services: Where your platform provider goes, you must follow. When you develop software for Windows, Mac OS X, or another traditional OS platform, each end-user is an individual. If one copy of the software crashes, other users aren't affected. A program that runs slowly on one user's PC might be blazing fast on another's. But each Twitter slowdown or outage affects thousands of users at a time -- or all of them at once. In turn, each and every ISV stands to be the fall guy for its own customers. "We know it's not your fault," they'll say, "but we won't be back."