The toxic coral reef

The last few days have belonged to Facebook and their new developer program.

Stuff that’s coming (as Jerry Pournelle would say) Real Soon Now. It’s a familiar tactic, it draws developer attention away from other places, but doesn’t do anything with it. It’s generally a bad thing to do, not just for everyone else, but also for the platform vendor. All the major tech companies at one time or another have been caught in the misery of vaporware. Apple used to do it regularly. Execs with nothing to announce at a major press event go hunting around the labs for a half-baked project to make a big deal about. The press loves big deals, and years later the market and developer community are still waiting, all new stuff on hold waiting for the pronouncement to become reality, if it ever does.

But I’m not a Facebook developer, so honestly I really don’t care what they do, unless they manage to take over the world, which no one really believes they will do. They may say they do, and maybe right now they’re being honest. But in a week or two the reality of the announcements will sink in, and they’ll realize that the easy part was the announcements. It’s much harder to actually make the ocean boil and the “web" is that big.

As Doc says so well, a big developer might be able to change the weather for a few moments, but we’re talking geology. All the bluster and big pronouncements and cute giggles from the Captain of Facebook amount to bupkis when it comes to plate tectonics. This is the domain of God not mere mortals.

That’s not to say the pronouncements don’t mean anything, quite the contrary. They mean a lot to their developers and their competitors. All corporate platform vendors own their developers. That’s just a fact. You exist at their pleasure. Apple owns their developers, when they change an API all developers must adjust or their software breaks. When they ban a product from the store its sales go to zero immediately. Microsoft used to have a saying — “Windows isn’t done until Lotus doesn’t run." Or something like that. They used to wear t-shirts that said “Delete Philippe." These weren’t idle threats. (And given what Philippe was doing back then, deleting him was a very reasonable thing for Microsoft to want to do, imho.)

A picture named nausicaaPoster.gifUsually the corporate platform guys don’t want to hurt most of the developers. But they also don’t care very much whether they do or don’t. But they very much want to hurt their competitors. Esp the young guys like Zuck. So a lot of what was announced last week was smoke, blown in the faces of their competitors. Who would that be? Certainly Google, but probably to a lesser extent Twitter, not because they’re such a huge force with users, but mostly because they’re so beloved by the press. That’s gotta bother Zuck.

And boy did the Twitter guys get it. Last week they came up with a new term that is so freakishly stupid and self-destructive, it’s a form of corporate insanity of the scale I’ve never seen in my long career. The term is OAuthcalypse. It’s the day in June when all the Twitter apps break. All of them. None will make it through this transition without being reconceived.

And they’re considering another change that would be even more dramatic, as if that were imaginable.

I used to talk about Twitter being a coral reef. This will be the end of that. In fact the threat of doing it is itself the end.

I’m familiar with this point in the life of a corporate platform. Very few of the changes have any meaning in terms of apps you can create. The changes just move sand from one bucket to another. You have to run hard just to stay in place.

When Twitter breaks all the apps in the OAuthcalypse, they will break all of mine, and I have no intention of fixing them. I don’t expect anyone to care. But what you should think about is how many of the Twitter apps that you do care about will break and how many of them will say the hell with it? And how many of them will be around for the next time Twitter breaks everything, because that’s certainly coming unless Twitter develops some kind of philosophy about itself as a developer platform.

This is why the only platform to bet on is a platform with no platform vendor. Then there’s no one who can rip up the pavement and break all the apps in one swoop. This way of working just doesn’t work. Twitter is responding more to Facebook than they are to the market. It’s time to stop thinking of Twitter as a coral reef, it’s just another web site. If we want to have a nice coral reef we must boot one up that has no one at the center.

That’s why RSS is frozen. No developer should (or can) code against a moving target. RSS has been in the same place for a long time and look at all that has developed around it. If we kept changing our minds about how it worked, eventually it would have amounted to nothing. But no one had the power to make those changes, despite how much people complained — so it stayed put. This is what works.



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