Would I go back to Twitter?

Before some of the recent discussion about the future of App.net, Colin Pekruhn asked a question, directed at Ben Brooks and me, about whether we’d go back to Twitter if App.net failed. My answer (and his) was a very clear “no”. Here’s what I said:

“I’m very stubborn and not going to reverse my decision on Twitter. If ADN fails I’ll blog more.”

The stubbornness deserves a little more explanation. Because programmers are pretty opinionated folks. When we feel strongly about an approach — to languages, to UI design, to backend architectures, anything — we’ll plant our feet in the ground and argue with coworkers about the right way to do things. And it’s easy to dig in, start coming up with more justifications for a choice before taking a second look and seeing if it’s actually the right thing, or whether we’re just fighting for something because we want to get our way.

I put a lot of thought into no longer posting to Twitter. I often bring up my low Twitter user ID (#897) because I think it helps underscore that I’ve been on the service a long time. I get the history of it. I was there when it was all done over SMS with my dumb Nokia phone. I had fun with early experiments on the platform, like my sadly abandoned @story140 account, my @wii codes service, the Tweet Marker API, and of course the two products I continue to support to this day: Tweet Library and Watermark.

I stopped posting because at some point the anti-developer attitude at Twitter became too much. The limits on user auth tokens, which have already killed a few popular third-party Twitter apps; the problems with shutting down IFTTT recipes; the guidelines that restricted how you could use your own tweets. This is all fairly well documented and I’ve written about it before. I leave my personal account silent as a small protest.

I knew leaving would be difficult, so I set up a series of posts to discourage my future self from ever joining again. My final tweets were timed to go out on the anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death. They’re a collected moment, a tribute to both Steve and how great Twitter could be. I like that they’re forever pinned at the top of my profile page.

The best programmers aren’t so proud that they won’t admit when they’re wrong. There’s a time to fight for what you believe in — your coworkers don’t agree with how you want to build that feature, but maybe they just don’t see it clearly yet — and there is a time to admit you made the wrong call and move on. Saying “I was wrong, let’s do it your way” is a powerful statement and moves a project forward. I never want to ignore Twitter just because I’m so stubborn I refuse to admit I overreacted and that it’s time to crawl back to Twitter and accept defeat.

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t wrong. Every reason I gave above for leaving Twitter is still valid. I have friends at Twitter doing great work — it’s truly incredible what they’ve built, from scaling the backend to how the iOS app works — but Twitter is too big and successful to change now. We can’t rewind the clock to when Twitter was a tiny company that cared more about developers than advertisers, so I won’t be back.