Three years ago this month Twitter broke its covenant with the third-party developers who helped fuel its initial growth and create some of its most innovative features. The message was clear: Twitter was in charge of its own platform, and while other Twitter apps would be tolerated, it would only be in limited fashion and for a limited time.
Today Twitter is a company in turmoil, with investors such as Chris Sacca clamoring for change after the exit of former CEO Dick Costolo and the interim takeover of co-founder Jack Dorsey. What can’t be disputed is that Twitter’s Mac app—introduced in 2011—is an extreme example of how Twitter has squandered the past few years. It drove third-party developers off of its platform in order to exert control, and then proceeded to bungle its app development.
Twitter for iOS, while it has its issues, is generally considered to be a competent app. (I don’t use it—I’m still clinging to Twitterrific. And of course, so many people love Tweetbot for iPhone.) Unfortunately, Twitter has withheld most of its new innovations (such as the contents of the Notifications tab, including a list of who follows, retweets, and favorites you) from third-party apps, so even the most impressive third-party app is hobbled out of the starting gate.
On the Mac, though, it’s been a disaster. I use Twitter for Mac every day because I rely on the contents of that Notifications tab, and because Tweetbot has never really appealed to me. (Unfortunately, the Mac version of Twitterrific is so old that it’s essentially unusable.)
How bad is Twitter for Mac? So bad that it fails to support numerous features introduced with fanfare by Twitter itself. The new Mute feature, which lets you block out communications from people you don’t want to hear from without blocking them entirely? Not only can you not initiate a mute from Twitter for Mac, but I’ve found that when I mute someone from Twitter’s Web interface, many of their tweets still appear in my timeline.
Tweet quoting, rolled out earlier this year, is still not supported on the Mac version of Twitter. Tweetbot (Mac and iPhone) and Twitterrific (iOS) were both updated to support it almost immediately, and are the richer for it.
Then there are the bugs. Too frequently I click on a tweet in Twitter for Mac, only to have it display the contents of an entirely different Tweet in my timeline. I’ve seen this bug consistently for months, if not years. I also find the app will often bog down and become unusable until I quit, but then again, sometimes it just quits on its own.
But perhaps Twitter’s just given up on the Mac. The tweet announcing tweet-quoting specifically didn’t mention the Mac version, and the app itself hasn’t been updated since October. I use Twitter on the desktop all the time, but I understand how mobile should probably be Twitter’s focus.
Whose app is it anyway?
Still, couldn’t this have all been avoided? This is Twitter’s platform. It could’ve placed stricter rules on the third-party apps favored by geeks like me while allowing them to continue innovating on the platform and growing their own businesses, but the rules were too onerous and development is slowly grinding to a halt.
If Twitter doesn’t have the resources or inclination to properly support platforms like the Mac (or, quite frankly, iOS and Android), perhaps it should rethink the decisions made by the prior regime and find a way to let other developers apply their expertise to the problem. Alternately, maybe Twitter should figure out how to use its huge team of app developers to create first-class native apps for not just iOS and Android, but the Mac and Windows too.
Finally, there’s the nuclear option: Force everyone on the desktop to use Twitter’s website. After all, there’s no native Facebook app for the Mac. This is true, and yet I use Twitter far more than I use Facebook for just this reason! With a dedicated Twitter app, I can dip in and out of the social stream as it suits me. I never remember to look at Facebook when I’m sitting at my desk.
It’s a tumultuous time for Twitter. They need new leadership and the overall Twitter product needs to get a lot better. I agree with Chris Sacca’s argument that Twitter could truly become our watercooler when it comes to live events, from TV shows to sports to breaking news. There’s a lot of work to be done. But as Twitter gets its house in order, maybe it can consider giving a little love to its apps? They sure could use it, especially Twitter for Mac. And if you can’t bother making a good Mac app, could you consider handing the keys to competent Mac developers and stepping out of the way?