Twitter's "death quadrant" that isn't (yet)

By Nathaniel Mott , written on December 7, 2012

From The News Desk

Months after its introduction, Twitter's quadrant of death – its warning to third-party developers that they'd best stop building Twitter clients, presented with a contentious graph – hasn't quite reached full lethality just yet. If anything, it might be time to come up with a nickname, something like "quadrant of well, we'll wait and see what happens."

There was much ado about Twitter's changes, from quadrant jokes (on Twitter, fittingly), a mob of angry Simpsons, and a likening to medieval warfare. Twitter has been working for the last few months to dissuade developers from building apps that resemble Twitter's products – basically, anything that is capable of reading and posting Tweets.

This hasn't stopped developers from continuing to build on the platform. Several high-profile apps have been released, including the Icon Factory's Twitterrific 5, Tapbots' Tweetbot for Mac, and Tweetro, the only Windows app of the bunch. Though each app is different and has been released at different times, one message has been made clear: We're going to have to pay (more) for Twitter clients.

Tweetbot for Mac was the first sign of this shift. Tapbots ended the app's beta run to preserve "tokens," the made-up currency that allows users to sign into third-party clients. One account counts as a single token, meaning a single install of an app could use up a number of "tokens" and limit future downloads. (Perhaps the best way to imagine this is to think of Twitter as an arcade game and tokens as quarters.) The app was later released for $20, a price previously unseen in the land of Twitter clients.

"We know some will not be happy about Tweetbot for Mac’s pricing, but the bottom line is Twitter needs to provide us with more tokens for us to be able to sell at a lower the price," Tapbots' Mark Jardine wrote in a blog post. "We spent a year developing this app and it’s the only way for us to be able to make our money back and continue supporting it with updates in the future."

The Icon Factory didn't price Twitterrific 5 at a much higher rate -- it's currently going for $2.99 -- but it did make the decision to ship an "update" as a separate app, something which often rankles customers who feel they should get free updates for as long as the app is in development. (Where I come from we like to call these people "entitled.")

"One downside to the limit of user tokens is that we can’t afford the 'cost' of a free app," the Icon Factory's Craig Hockenberry writes. "Tokens are a scarce resource that developers have to manage carefully in order to recoup their development costs. If you’re holding out for a price drop with our app, you’ll be disappointed."

Tweetro is perhaps the most notable (and vocal) out of the bunch. The company, which shipped an eponymous, free app to coincide with the release of Windows 8, quickly ran out of those precious "tokens." Twitter – which doesn't ship an app for Windows 8 – reportedly declined Tweetro's request for more tokens, so the company released a new, paid app. It currently costs $9.99, but the price is expected to rise to $12.99 soon.

Third-party developers aren't being killed outright – Twitter is putting a slow squeeze on its ecosystem, manipulating a made-up currency to create artificial scarcity. To their credit, these three developers (and probably more that I haven't touched on) haven't caved to Twitter's demands and have simply followed the curve of supply and demand.

Will this be a problem eventually? Probably. The time may come when Twitter decides that it won't issue any new tokens. And, despite the increased prices, developers are now facing a manufactured limit that constrains how much money they're able to make via the service. Tweetro told The Next Web that it isn't getting rich off this app, and that they will barely be able to cover the cost of developing the app.

For now, however, these developers are holding Twitter's siege at bay.

[Original image courtesy  Vectorportal]