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Apple, Twitter, and Digital Sharecropping

Bunny SnugglesDear Reader,

Recently Apple and Twitter have made the news. Apple pissed off it’s “media partners” by reinventing their business model for them and clamping down on subscriptions that they didn’t get a piece of. Twitter pissed off its developers by telling them “So long and thanks for all the fish” in a posting in their developer group. Raffi Krikorian later clarified by saying, “we don’t think there are
as many business opportunities in making a piece of software that
*simply* renders any of our timeline methods” Apparently, they have hired Tony Soprano as head of developer relations. In both cases, a company has decided that a the infrastructure it has built is more important than the creative individuals that help make that network valuable. Basically, both companies have said “deal with it, bitches!” to a group that thought they were very important. (and you really have to hear ElizabethN say that before you really get the full impact.)

To be up front, I find both moves the actions of bullies. Apple and Twitter both ought to be ashamed of their actions because in both cases, they are smacking around the goose that lays the golden egg. In both cases though, they know just how hard they can hit to inflict the maximum damage without getting in trouble.

Corporate bullying however is not the point of this post. Both of these actions should be a serious red flag to developers and content creators. If you are relying on someone else’s infrastructure, you are a digital share cropper. Jeff Attwood was the first person I ever saw use that term in this blog post, however he was using it a bit differently. He was talking about Facebook, Wikipedia and the like using “user generated” content as their product. I am using the term slightly different and I believe in a manner more akin to the original term sharecropping.

The idea that you build your product or business on someone else’s infrastructure is exactly the same as planting your farm on someone else’s land. You are wholly at the mercy of the landowner. If they decide that there is a better way to make money on that land (aka Twitter) then you lose. If they decide you aren’t paying enough for the privilege of using the land (aka Apple) then you lose. Either way, there are hundreds of ways to lose and very few ways to win. As soon as the land owner sees you winning, things will change.

In the case of Twitter, you could see it coming. Moves they made last year in buying a client and blessing it as the official client should have been a serious sign to all developers that the landlord had found a better way to make money from the land. In the case of Apple, c’mon people, it’s not like this is the first time Apple has been the bully. If you didn’t see this one coming, you’ve got your head buried way too deep in the sand. Apple relishes pushing people around. The playground is littered with the bodies of their victims like Adobe, the music industry, developers, the list goes on. If you want to play on Apple’s play ground you had better be prepared to be punched in the nose.

I find the actions of both companies deplorable. Just as the land owners exploited sharecroppers, so are these companies exploiting their ecosystem. BUT (and you knew there was a but) I respect their right to do so; it’s their infrastructure. If you don’t like it, go build your own Twitter. (yes, I’m on identi.ca/calevans and post there a couple of times a day but like 1% of my friends are there so the conversations aren’t nearly as interesting. I’m sorry.) Developers that built entire businesses around Twitter have no right to cry foul just because it’s not fair that Twitter changes things. Publishers have no right to scream in agony when Apple arbitrarily changes the rules. As a friend of mine told me yesterday “You pays your money, you takes your chances.”

I am really sorry that this has happened. I have friends who have been hurt by these moves and I know this blog post isn’t going to sit well with them but it’s the plain truth. Both of these companies acted well within their rights. I’ll even go so far to say that they acted as they should have by acting in their shareholders best interests. They are companies, that’s their only job.

So what is the point? The next time the next big things comes along, I want you to share this blog post with every developer, every musician, every journalist, every photographer, every person you know who creates content of any kind. Be aware that if you jump on board, help them make it big, they are required by law to act in their own self interest and as soon as you are not in their self interest, THEY WILL BONE YOU.

Don’t be a digital sharecropper. If it means that all your blog posts are on your own blog and not WordPress.com, so be it. Spend the little extra and own it. If you care about your applications, build on the open web. You may not make as much money and it may not be as hip but it’s yours and you get to decide if you succeed or fail.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

Photo Credit: Simon Page
Released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

2 thoughts on “Apple, Twitter, and Digital Sharecropping

  1. Cal,

    This is a GREAT article. Being a web/iOS developer I have experienced all of the above. I am not as put off on the subscription changes that Apple laid down, but that is a sermon for another Sunday. Basically, it is because Apple does listen occasionally and reverses their decisions.

    The best part of the article that I took away, and EVERY developer needs to remember this is: “If you are relying on someone else’s infrastructure, you are a digital share cropper.”

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