Nambu Gives Up on Twitter

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The team behind the popular Mac OS X Twitter client Nambu is calling it quits and dropping development of their application. Nambu’s announcement comes only days after Twitter told developers to rethink their client app strategies.

The Nambu Web site says:

Unfortunately, we are sad to announce that Nambu is no longer being actively developed. There will be no more updates, as everyone on the Nambu team has moved on to other projects.

We would like to thank everyone for their past support and suggestions.

All the best.


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The team doesn’t specifically say they abandoned their application because of Twitter’s policy change towards developers, although the last line in their statement can easily be interpreted as a dig at the social networking service.

Nambu for Mac OS X is dead. Sad Trombone.RIP Nambu

Twitter recently updated its API terms of service for developers, essentially telling them the company isn’t interested in apps that mirror the features offered in the Twitter Web site and its own Twitter apps while offering a different user interface. Instead, Twitter wants developers to focus on building apps that leverage Twitter’s services, like image sharing apps that link through Twitter, or analytic tools.

“Developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience,” Twitter platform and API leader Ryan Sarver said. “The answer is no.”

Despite Nambu’s announcement, the team is still letting users download and use Mac OS X-based application for free. Since it isn’t in development, however, Twitter could change its APIs at any time, breaking the application’s ability to connect to the service.

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By apps that duplicate its Twitter clients, Twitter clearly means any third-party Twitter client.  So Twitter is excluding competition in the market for Twitter clients and in the associated aftermarkets for things like users’ data, which Twitter apparently will keep for itself.  This is clearly anti-competitive, and if how they responded to Apple’s banning cross compiler development tools for iOS apps is typical, should cause both EU and U.S. antitrust regulators to fly into action to halt Twitter from taking this step to forestall all competition in the market for Twitter clients.

Indeed, this is far worse than what Apple did, because Apple’s banning of cross-compilers only banned cross compilers and third-party tools based on proprietary standards.  Apple fully permitted tools that were developed based on the prescribed open standards of HTML, CSS, and Javascript and that used the iOS’s published APIs, which pretty much meant that developers were free to make tools that fully competed with Apple’s Xcode tools and with each other, provided that they used open standards and the iOS published APIs.  Here, Twitter is closing off all competition period.

Any comments, especially from those who excoriated Apple for its ban, not on competition, as Twitter has done, but on only cross-compilers and proprietary standards.


I really do like Nambu, but if they think they have to call it quits, fine. I was really turned off by their whining on the @nambu Twitter account last week. Twitter needs to monetize their service; if that means controlling the API and clients, so be it. Whining about it won’t change things. People will use the services and clients that work best for them. If Twitter’s changes make the service less desirable, they’ll lose users.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo, I really don’t think the Twitter thing is as bad as it has been portrayed. I say this as someone who is developing a new Twitter client aimed at a non-traditional Twitter audience. You can find some foundation code here, if that interests you.

The new developer TOS does have one new term that’s kinda weird. It’s a term that prohibits developers who use the APIs from paying for distribution of their client. The clear intention is to prevent one of the bigger VC funded app developers from paying for their client to be the default Twitter client on a phone, tablet, or PC, thus taking away a competitive tool a developer might have against Twitter and its preferred client on various devices. I have a feeling that consequences will be different than practice, and actually give third party developers some leverage when dealing with distribution channels. The devs are banned by contract from paying for distribution, so some other arrangement will pop up, probably more favorable to devs since the channels will still want to differentiate.

But the key is that the TOS doesn’t ban third party tools. The TOS doesn’t even require tools to use consistent user interface standards. It doesn’t require that tools actually sign users in, which is the key technical mechanism for Twitter enforcing any client policies it comes up with. And if they block the unauthenticated APIs, Twitter will basically shoot themselves in the nuts. There are some 700K registered apps (divide by some constant to get the number actually in use). There are probably millions that are unregistered and simply get by on the public unauthenticated rate limited APIs. If they crack down, they’ll break a lot of the web by breaking hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces. They’ll cause a tremendous amount of bad will. The ubiquity Twitter has achieved does have significant ongoing costs. But Twitter has achieved and maintained its ubiquity via a high level of openness.

What it all boils down to is that Twitter wants to stick ads in the timelines it serves up. The API has been open enough that they really couldn’t be sure that developers wouldn’t filter the ads in their clients. They’re trying to ensure that via contract and policy. On the official stuff like the TOS, they tread very lightly because they know there’s a delicate balance. In the blog postings, they pound their chests and see what the reaction is.

I expect their TOS changes to work fine, and their rhetoric to soften. I also think there are significant opportunities for client developers, despite Twitter’s suggestion that developers no longer build clients and focus instead on analytics, etc. There are lots of people who would like to read Twitter without the complexity and politics of having an account. Imagine having a public account on Twitter and following Sarah Palin. Would the fact that you are following Sarah Palin or FoxNews make your less conservative friends think you’re a kook? Anyway, that’s a problem I’m addressing, and it fits just fine in Twitter’s new TOS and the realities of what they can get away with via the APIs.


Bosco:  I am sure that there are many developers who hope that you are correct in believing that Twitter’s rhetoric won’t be fully expressed in its contractual agreements and in the assertion of its IP rights in its licensing.  However, I wouldn’t advise a client to risk significant investment based on your optimism.

Twitter apparently is basing its authority on its IP rights, specifically copyright, and, where they exist and are enforceable, patents in its code.  Apple asserted those same right in iOS in an attempt to prohibit cross compilers and tools based on proprietary standards.  Does copyright permit Twitter to exclude third-party clients from Twitter?  On the face of it, to the extent that such clients reproduce, distribute, modify, and/or include reproduced or modified Twitter code in a manner not permitted by a license, probably yes.  But the EU and U.S. antitrust authorities went ballistic when Apple asserted those same type of rights (the exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and make derivative works)in copyright, which allow for a monopoly in those rights, to prohibit cross compilers and tools based on proprietary standards. 

So what is different so that Twitter gets a pass, while Apple didn’t?  I don’t see a difference.  Of course, I thought that Apple was right and had good prospects for prevailing in court against, at least, the U.S. government.  But Apple let the matter go, because it had other means to ensure that most apps and all of the most successful apps on its iOS would use its tools.  But I digress, because the real issue is whether regulators will go after Twitter for asserting its IP rights to apparently completely foreclose competition in the market for Twitter clients, as those same regulators went after Apple for merely prohibiting cross-compilers tools and tools based on proprietary standards, while Apple left open the opportunity for robust competition using open standards and published APIs.

If the regulators don’t go after Twitter for apparently doing much worse, they clearly are being unfair to Apple.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo: Let’s get down to brass tacks and cut through any and all pretension in this discussion.
(a) I am no fan of government sticking its head into the business of these businesses.
(b) When lawyers get involved, it’s rarely if ever about inalienable “rights”, it’s almost always another battleground in the process business. Lawyers are just part of the negotiation process that include TOS, APIs, rate limiting practice, etc.
(c) Apple’s restrictions on development tools had nothing to do “software quality and experience” and everything to do with protecting the (nearly) exclusive revenue stream of the App Store.
(d) Despite what Ryan Sarver says in his blog, Twitter’s TOS changes and his recommendations have nothing to do with a consistent Twitter experience and everything to do with ensuring that they can inject ads into the timeline and monetize the ads.

With Apple’s banning of third party tools, there were several directly affected parties with the resources to bring significant lawyering into the game. Adobe make some multiple of a billion dollars selling Flash development tools. They have a significant international presence. There is no question that they would drag the fight to a forum amenable to their concerns, which is why the EU regulators bitch-slapped Apple on the issue.

Whether Twitter is behaving badly or not, or expressed intention to behave badly or not, or even couched what its goals are in some pretension of behaving badly or not… It doesn’t matter, because there might be a grand total of 10 aggrieved parties with total revenues under $50M that could even afford to think about launching and fomenting some kind of regulatory challenge anywhere. The flexibility Twitter has given itself in its TOS to cut off badly behaving registered apps was more than enough to bring UberMedia (arguably the biggest 3rd party Twitter app developer) into compliance with Twitter’s wishes.

That’s why I think that anti-trust concerns about Twitter might make interesting legal discussion but are in all practicality off the table. I suggest looking at the ecosystem, the plentitude of players, and what the effects on Twitter’s ubiquity would be if they mess with what’s working too much. I also think that most app developers would have no problem including ads from Twitter provided the ads just show up in timelines and don’t require some kind of special effort to display. I think that if a big client maker blocked the ads, Twitter could deal with them effectively and easily. If a small player did that as a mechanism to become bigger, Twitter could deal with them effectively and easily too. I think Twitter is under pressure from current and potential investors to monetize, and so we get the tough-guy rhetoric. But ultimately, they have to be practical. If dominating monetization reduces the pool, they lose. If injecting ads into timelines offends their users, they lose.

Twitter is not a terribly expensive business to “replicate right”. They would probably be better as a feature of Facebook or a truly free service of Google, and Twitter’s private valuation reflects that. So there is yet another competitive restraint on Twitter’s actual behavior along these lines.

As for Nambu… If they were making money, they would make this work. Even if they weren’t making money, there is some value in having a working, adaptable Twitter implementation. It is a real bitch to do, especially post-OAuth. I suspect Nambu just lost interest.


Bosco:  A few of your brass tacks are bent.  Unlike Twitter’s restriction on third-party clients, which clearly is a play to increase its revenue by gaining exclusive access to users’ personal data and obtain the ability to run ads, Apple’s restrictions on cross compilers and proprietary tools had no effect on Apple’s revenues.  Apple gets the same 30% no matter what tools are used to make iOS apps.  So Apple was not and could not have been trying to protect the App Store’s revenues.  Twitter, however, unlike Apple, is clearly motivated by the need for revenue and profits, while Apple was motivated by the desire to prevent any third party from exerting control over its iOS as the primary, if not sole, source of development tools.  Apple was also concerned with providing a consistent and outstanding users’ experience that fully exploited the features and capacities of its iOS, instead of having that users’ experience restricted by the limitations of any cross compiler.

And no, Apple wasn’t deterred by Adobe’s money.  Apple can afford and could have afforded to buy and sell Adobe several times over, before exhausting its cash.  But Adobe doesn’t have anything that is worth anything to Apple.  The real concern was the EU, but as I said, supra, Apple found a way to effectively, though not perfectly, accomplish its ends without a court fight.

Now, I don’t now whether it is practical for anyone to launch a private antitrust lawsuit against Twitter, but that is irrelevant to my point, which deals with government antitrust enforcement.  My point is simply that it is unfair to Apple and to developers, as well, to treat Twitter differently from Apple.  As I said, supra, I thought that Apple was right as a matter of antitrust law and could have prevailed in a court fight.  But if Apple was wrong notwithstanding that it simply asserted its rights under copyright, then Twitter is wrong too.  And if Twitter isn’t wrong with its restrictions, which, unlike Apple’s, seem to completely foreclose competition in the market for third-party Twitter clients, then Apple wasn’t wrong to require that those making tools for iOS apps use the iOS’s published APIs and open standards.

It is that simple.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Nemo: My brass tack “a” is unquestionably unbent, because it’s just my opinion. I don’t think Apple should have been spanked by the EU, but I also think that if the execs didn’t anticipate it, they were criminally delusional. And I think the execs anticipated it and just felt they had to play right up to the line.

That said, both Apple’s behavior and Sarver’s statement of what Twitter’s behavior will be are rotten. Apple is big enough for it not to matter. Twitter might not be rewarded so handsomely for going that direction, should they actually go there. Practically speaking for most developers, Twitter probably can’t go there. They just don’t have the ultimate lever of control of “approval/disapproval” that Apple has on iOS apps. If Twitter tried to give themselves that level of control, they’d gimp their ecosystem.

Twitter can’t just cut off or instantly change the API either. It would break too much stuff. They need to clearly telegraph their intentions on the technical front or they break the ecosystem. Look back at OAuth integration to the time frame that takes.


I think that notifying its community of developers of its intent to ban third-party Twitter clients is exactly what Twitter has been and is doing.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I think that notifying its community of developers of its intent to ban third-party Twitter clients is exactly what Twitter has been and is doing.

Except that absolutely is not what they did. It’s not even what Mr. Sarver said in his blog posting. Nemo, I get that that is what you’d like because it would validate Apple’s command and control model for you, probably more “legally” than in a business sense. But that’s not what’s going on here.

Twitter requires a certain high level of openness to maintain its ubiquity and relevance. They don’t have 30% of $1.8B to fritter away managing a locked down break-even store.

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