Amir Shevat is an angel investor and writer at O’Reilly. He previously held leadership positions at Twitter, Twitch, Slack, Google and Microsoft. More posts from this contributor Tough questions about bot ethics
On Twitter, the world shares their opinions and aspirations; This is where brands, celebrities and politicians interact with people, live and outdoors.
From 2006 to 2012, Twitter’s public API was free for everyone, which developers used to build a wide range of value-added services (like TweetDeck) for the growing community. But after 2012, Twitter severely restricted access to data, eroding developer trust. To reverse this trend and allow the developer community to thrive, Twitter acquired my startup Reshuffle in May 2021.
After the acquisition, Jack Dorsey and Bruce Falk (former CEO and GM of Revenue Products respectively) hired me to reopen the Twitter API. This came after I gave harsh feedback to Twitter leadership as an outside developer on a public forum about how broken the developer platform was and the investment needed to fix the issue.
I told them that with the right attention, we could create an attractive and successful platform that would give developers the tools and APIs to thrive and enhance the Twitter user experience. Ned Segal, Twitter’s CFO at the time, paraphrased: “Amir told us how broken it was, so we bought his company to fix it.”
My startup and I have joined a great little team working to revitalize the Twitter developer platform. The team not only ensured developers had a growing suite of API endpoints with which to build successful solutions, but also migrated the old API to a new GraphQL-based infrastructure. On November 15, 2021, we officially launched the new Twitter V2 API, which has been met with a lot of love and excitement from developers.
But our ambition was bigger than that.
Dorsey and the board funded us even more (gave us permission to hire 50 more people) to build something much bigger – something they’ve wanted to build for a long time. The vision was to make Twitter a real developer platform. We wanted developers to create in-Twitter apps that interact with users.
We envisioned a world where you could share your favorite Spotify song and hear it live with all your followers on Twitter. We wanted you to be able to share your donation to your favorite cause and get your followers to donate too through an integrated GoFundMe-style experience. We wanted you to play Wordle on Twitter, not just share the results. We wanted you to be able to interact with developer-supported apps within the Twitter user interface.
This was just the beginning: we also envisioned true decentralization of the Twitter timeline. We wanted to allow developers to create and share their own timelines.
We were excited and excited to announce our vision to our developers at Chirp last month, and now that vision is just an opening keynote document lost on my bricked-up Twitter computer.
Interested in technology? Here’s the timeline curated by Eureka News Now. Interested in video games? Here is the Twitch game and streamer timeline. Custom timelines were the superhero evolution of Twitter lists, giving developers expanded ability to curate and create their favorite topics or do so on behalf of others.
The next part of our plan was to create a discovery mechanism, something like a store, to discover and install these apps and timelines. We’ve even started exploring the possibility of letting developers monetize these experiences.
Over the past year, we’ve started experimenting around all of these experiences.
We started the tile experiment, which was the first step towards apps:
We launched the timeline experiment, the first step toward open, custom timelines:
Today we launched a new custom timeline experiment – just one of many things we’re working on @TwitterDev 🚀 There is a lot of potential for the developer community to develop such features in the future and we are just getting started. Congratulations to the team!🌹 pic.twitter.com/sFToIN7a2s
– Amir Shevat (@ashevat) July 11, 2022
Twitter launched the Toolbox, our first discovery experiment:
Put the NEW Twitter Toolbox to work for you. These ready-to-use tools are affordable and built by our developer community to help you get even more out of Twitter.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) February 1, 2022
We pulled all of this off during the roller coaster ride of the Twitter acquisition phase. We believed (quite wrongly) that Elon would spend time understanding the range of projects within Twitter and their impact on the public conversation. We felt that the developer platform was a crucial part of his outspoken vision of an “everything app”. We were excited to present our vision to him in the hope that he would be excited by our vision.
And then, on November 4th, we were fired. Our work computers were bricked in the middle of the night and emails popped up in our personal accounts telling us we were being fired.
According to one of our engineers’ public tweets, two people remain from our 100+ person organization. All our dreams and plans for developers have been blown to dust.
When I came to Twitter, I had told Dorsey, “We can’t screw this up. We can only fix the relationship between developers and Twitter once. If we miss this opportunity, I would never hire another developer who trusts our platform.”
Because when developers start building on a platform, they make a bet that it will continue to exist with a high degree of stability. It’s a lot of work to build on a platform and developers have historically been burned by unsuccessful platforms like Windows Mobile and unreliable platforms like some of the Facebook API.
I’ve worked on some of the best platforms out there – from Android and Sharepoint to Twitch and Slack – and they all have one thing in common: openness and trust.
Last month we broke that trust and I’m sorry I couldn’t help it. I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m still thinking about it. We were excited and excited to announce our vision to our developers at Chirp last month, and now that vision is just an opening keynote document lost on my bricked-up Twitter computer.
A developer once asked me how we could ensure that Twitter would continue to maintain and invest in this developer platform. My response was, “As long as we have this great team that puts our leadership in charge of building the platform, the developers will see that we mean business and I’ll let you know if that changes.”
Let this be my personal message to the Twitter developers: the team is gone, the investment has been reversed. Love doesn’t live here anymore.
The team that built the Twitter developer platform is amazing. You will create great platforms for developers and other developer tools in other companies. I’m honored to have worked with each and every one of them.
As for me, as I move forward and transition into the world of venture capital, I intend to invest in impactful developer platforms – ones that are committed to being open and trustworthy.