Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Apps Should Twitter Acquire?

According to a statement made today by Twitter's co-founder Biz Stone, the company is interested in acquiring more companies to expand upon their current core set of features. At a news conference held in Tel Aviv, Stone was quoted as saying that acquisitions are "something we are definitely interested in. We made an acquisition last year that turned out to be an outstandingly good decision."

The acquisition he's referring to is Twitter's purchase of Summize, a real-time search engine that has now become Since that original purchase in summer of 2008, Twitter has made no other moves or indications that they were interested in buying other companies, seemingly more focused on quashing bugs, acquiring funding and partnering with major search engines like Bing and Google. Meanwhile, the ecosystem of Twitter applications exploded, and now includes hundreds if not thousands of apps powered by or integrated with Twitter's service. But which of these apps deserve to become an official company offering?

Apparently, there may be a few apps that have already caught Twitter's interest. Stone told the crowd in Tel Aviv that "our attention is grabbed by some of these developers," and the company plans to "take a hard look at them."

What Companies are on Twitter's Radar?

Which applications do you suppose have crossed Twitter's radar? Some insight may be found on Twitter's "goodies" page where the company lists a handful of apps, widgets, and website buttons which Twitter users can browse through and download. Here, desktop Twitter clients like Twhirl and TweetDeck are promoted alongside mobile applications like Twitterific and PocketTweets.

However, the complete app list seems a little out-of-date when compared with what today's Twitterers are actually using, especially on the mobile front. According to a study from August of this year, iPhone apps like Tweetie and TwitterFon are just as popular as Twitterific - if not more so - as is the Blackberry app TwitterBerry. And the one-time popular Twitter app Twhirl, an Adobe AIR desktop client, has long since been overshadowed by the more robust TweetDeck and similar web counterparts.

Among those web counterparts are the new tools from Seesmic and Brizzly, both of which have been garnering attention as of late, especially when they each introduced support for Twitter's new "lists" feature earlier this month.

But client applications are only a small slice of the entire Twitter app universe. There are also games, blog and email plugins, utilities, analytics and search tools, shopping services, URL shortners and so much more. Plus, there are sites that attempt to aggregate the chaos into some sort of meaningful structure, like the website, for example, often called Twitter's unofficial "app store" by its fans.

While we could only guess at which applications Twitter would want to adopt as their "official" clients or services, a good guess may involve some of the media sharing tools that have been popularized by a number of Twitter users wanting to share photos and videos in addition to plain text. TwitPic comes to mind as one of the top photo-sharing clients and TwitVid or Tweetube may be considered for video shares. These sorts of acquisitions seem to fit better with Twitter's goal of expanding upon the core functionality of Twitter. Where before, the company was content with its simple 140-character updates, recent changes, including the integration of the URL-shortening service, Twitter lists, geolocation features and a new implementation of the "re-tweet" structure seem to hint at Twitter's desire to add more layers of complexity to the once-basic service.

More Acquisitions Could be Too Much of a Good Thing

However, Twitter needs to be careful not to add too much. Up until now, the service has grown organically, with a lot of its features and conventions implemented by its own user and developer community outside of the official channels. Bog it down too much with extra add-ons and new behaviors, and Twitter may scare off potential new users who already often struggle with figuring out what to do with the service in its simple form. Plus, longtime Twitterers may also be put-off to see their favorite clients or services ignored in favor of whatever companies Twitter chooses to bless through an acquisition deal. And once acquired, competing companies could wither and fade away, unable to compete, eventually leading their developers to cut their losses and move on.

What Should Twitter Acquire?

Earlier this year, we listed ten companies that Twitter should acquire next. Not surprisingly, some of the companies or their features have already been implemented, including's URL shortening service and the geo-location feature we mentioned. Meanwhile, another app on the list, FriendFeed, has already been acquired by Facebook, leaving our original list much shorter and now in need of an update.

Given Twitter's intentions to start a shopping spree sometime in the near future, we wonder what apps will make their list. We also wonder if more Twitter acquisitions will end up being a good thing for the company and the community as a whole, or if it will end up stifling competition in what is now a thriving ecosystem of innovation and development. We hope Twitter proceeds cautiously and wisely in this area - any major unwelcome changes have the ability to alienate the very community that made Twitter what it is today.

Written by Sarah Perez

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