Joel Gascoigne, Leo Widrich and the team at Buffer could teach Twitter how to share.
The widely used social scheduling platform opened their API to developers today, in a move that will inevitably result in some madly creative social integration. Consider that Buffer is currently integrated with 15 web apps (most prominently Facebook. LinkedIn and Twitter). Consider that many of the integrated apps can draw from RSS feeds, and one of the channels (IFTTT) integrates many additional channels. Consider the wealth of mobile Twitter clients and how Buffer’s open availability in the mobile space could be the impetus for some awesome apps.
Suddenly a picture starts to form of possibilities that are limited only to the imagination of developers.
Time-specific and integrated
The unique element that Buffer adds is a time-specific trigger. They’re not by any means the only app that does this, but they want to be the most integrated app to do this. This seems to be a lesson that they’ve learned from (old) Twitter.
There really isn’t anything that Twitter does that Google Plus couldn’t do. Twitter came along first and integrated itself through numerous third-party apps because of its generous open API. They (like Facebook) developed without a clear monetization strategy because no one demanded it of them. The thought was that by developing a large audience you could figure out how to make money from them later, but LinkedIn’s successful IPO and Facebook’s disastrous IPO put an abrupt end to that theory. For Twitter to go public, conventional wisdom is that they have to become more effective for advertisers at the expense of user-experience. Thus the birth of Bad Twitter.
Dollar dollar bill
In order to make money (now a prerequisite to go public), Twitter has begun to scale back access to its API. It has adopted an ad model where it needs eyeballs on its site to generate impressions for advertisers, which is completely incongruent with their their previous strategy to gain audience with an open API.
At a glance, Buffer appears to be in a good position to make money. Their scheduling function is much easier to use than Hootsuite or Facebook and they have a very reasonably-priced premium option offering a lot more accounts with unlimited queued posts for $100 annually (I subscribed when it was nearly $100 a month and it was well worth it at that price point). Estimating completely out of my hindside (with no basis in reality) with six employees and other costs it seems reasonable that they could break even at around $750K, or with about 7500 premium accounts. Depending upon the subscribers and the money they need, they could do a lot of creative things to generate money (from advertising to changing subscription costs) while keeping their API open.
For naysayers who think that a comparison between Twitter and Buffer is unfair because of the difference in the services that they provide, their functions are irrelevant. Their business strategies are the comparison. Despite Twitter’s de-evolution into a more controlled platform, Nova Spivack makes a compelling argument that Twitter wouldn’t have to abandon open source to monetize, but I suspect that Twitter won’t be inviting him to join their advisory board anytime soon.
What Buffer can teach Twitter
So what is the lesson Buffer can teach Twitter? Don’t publicly share something you’re going to demand back later. While Twitter demands its toys back from playmates LinkedIn and Instagram, the possibilities are wide open for Buffer. Just from my limited interactions with Joel and Leo, it’s nice to see a couple of good guys succeed. And to do it the right way.
And it’s sad to see Twitter take their ball and go home. It will be interesting to see how the game changes when they do.