One of Twitter’s greatest assets has always been its developer community. But with the countless link, image, and video sharing services available (many of which are very similar to each other), most new services are lost to obscurity. When it comes to determining which services will succeed, the popular Twitter clients hold all the keys. If you’re integrated with one, you’ll be at the fingertips of hundreds of thousands of users who wouldn’t have otherwise known you existed. Getting chosen as an application’s default service can lead to skyrocketing popularity overnight. These Twitter clients are home to some very valuable real estate, and now some of their developers are looking to profit accordingly.
We’ve been hearing from multiple sources that TweetDeck has been toying with charging a fee for services to appear in the popular Twitter client for some time now, so we turned to the company’s founder, Iain Dodsworth, for answers. He says that no services have paid up until this point, but that by the time the next version comes out, that will change. Unsurprisingly, Dodsworth wasn’t willing to go into the details of the arrangements, but we’ve been hearing it will cost services around $50,000 to appear in TweetDeck. We’ve also heard that there might be an extra fee to become a default service, but this information is less concrete.
It also sounds like only some services will be asked to pay to appear in TweetDeck, while others will be included for free, which makes sense. The application would have a hard time omitting a service like TwitPic without raising quite a few eyebrows. But for those link shorteners that are a dime a dozen, particularly the ones that are just getting started, a fee would be much less surprising.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t think there’s anything particularly sinister about this. It’s a natural progression of the Twitter ecosystem. Developers have to draw the line somewhere, otherwise they’re going to be presenting users with an increasingly overwhelming and redundant list of options. So they can either subjectively pick out their favorite services (or perhaps the most popular ones), or they can charge for their spots. In theory they could also allow users to manually specify their own shortener and image sharing services (in the same way you can specify the default search in your web browser), but the number of people who would actually do this would be negligible.
That said, I do have concerns. My biggest issue is that TweetDeck, or any other clients that adopt a similar model, could show favoritism to services that are clearly inferior simply because they have larger pocketbooks. At this point many of these third party services (particularly the URL shorteners) are very similar, so I don’t particularly care if my link goes out through one or the other. But if TweetDeck starts defaulting to a service that isn’t very good, or refuses to integrate an up-and-coming new service that users are clamoring for, then we’re going to have issues.
As for other clients, TweetDeck’s competition has largely avoided the practice of charging for integration. Seesmic Desktop doesn’t do it – in fact, it rotates the default services for each install to maintain neutrality. And Tweetie, the very popular iPhone and native Mac client, doesn’t charge either (though it does generate revenue through premium versions and integrated advertising). But now that the dam is breaking, I suspect we’ll hear about more applications, particularly the free ones, adopting similar pay-to-play models with their integrated third party services.
That TweetDeck is among the first clients to do this isn’t very surprising – it’s the most popular Twitter client, and the company has also raised funding, which means it has to appease investors with some actual revenue. The company has also recently experimented with a branded Blink 182 version of TweetDeck, and Dodsworth says that more revenue streams are on the way.
Update: Dodsworth has sent me the following to clarify his position on adding services, emphasizing the importance of the user experience when it comes to selecting which services qualify:
It is correct that select, commercial, partners are getting integrated into Tweetdeck. TweetDeck is now the leading *client* by a long shot, with around 20% market share and, similar to the browser, we think there might just be a business model in here.
Integration and placement is based on a set of criteria and the experience of our users is always at the foremost of our minds. The user experience of TweetDeck has given us the lead in this market and we are acutely aware that all of the services we integrate need to echo this focus on providing the best possible user experience. Indeed this is why we are looking to integrate additional services as although Twitpic is the current leader their downtime reflects badly on TweetDeck and causes frustration for our users.
We feel its important to provide users with reliable alternatives in all service areas and as a bootstrapped start-up with a small team and limited bandwidth we believe this revenue opportunity can help us to fund our ongoing development and provide our users with the best possible experience.