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Twitter与LinkedIn决裂内幕

Ryan Holmes 2012年07月10日

上周Twitter终止了与商务社交网站LinkedIn的合作关系。这究竟是怎么回事?钱是显而易见的原因之一,但更重要的是Twitter业务重点调整之后对第三方开发者管理思路的转变。

    Twitter和商务社交网站LinkedIn一拍两散了。就像那些离异家庭的孩子们一样,这两个网站的粉丝们本周一觉醒来,发现一切都变了。就在上周五,Twitter宣布将终止与商务社交网站LinkedIn的合作。尽管LinkedIn的用户现在仍然可以通过LinkedIn更新Twitter的状态,但他们通过Twitter发出的消息却不会再同步到LinkedIn上。

    消息传出之后,各大科技媒体立即开始紧张地分析两家公司分手的原因。科技网站AllThingsD的迈克•伊萨克指出,Twitter的许多新功能都没有在LinkedIn上显示,比如Twitter的“可扩展消息”功能(它可以显示来自《纽约时报》(The New York Times)等网站的新闻摘要和照片)以及多线程对话功能等。Twitter的消费产品负责人迈克尔•西皮也在公司的一篇博文中对此表示了认同。他向研发者们提醒说:“(你们)需要能够看到,可扩展消息功能以及其它功能会让Twitter变得更加吸引人,也更容易使用。”

    就像大多数内斗一样,钱也是导致两家分手的一个重要原因。科技网站GigaOM的马修•英格拉姆认为,Twitter的大多数收入依靠“眼球经济”,也就是把消费者的关注卖给广告商。从这一点看,它和报纸以及其他任何媒体没有太大区别。维珍美国航空公司(Virgin America)、红牛饮料(Red Bull)、可口可乐(Coca-Cola)等大企业都斥巨资在Twitter上做推广。这些推广消息要么会在消费者搜索相关关键词时直接显示出来,要么就直接推送给目标用户。其它做广告的方法还包括价格更昂贵的热门话题推广,以及推广账户等,这些都会显示在用户的“关注谁”侧边栏里。

    不过当LinkedIn这样的第三方开发者共享了Twitter的应用程序界面后,他们就会把相当一部分消息引导到自己的服务上,也就是把相当一部分消费者的眼球吸引到自己的网站上来。(一个应用程序界面就像一个总钥匙,使外来者可以调用Twitter的数据,并且在这个平台上构建应用程序。)不过多年以来,在Twitter的默许下,整个外部开发者生态系统都在这样做。事实上,Twitter的创始人比兹•斯通自己也表示,这种方法“可能是——甚至可以说一定是我们对Twitter做的最重要的事。”在50多万个第三方应用的帮助下,Twitter在短短6年里就吸引了5,000万用户。

    不过这里也有些矛盾之处:拥有一个开放的应用程序界面(API)对于增长来说是件好事。由于你的网络支持各种创新的、有用的应用程序,用户自然蜂拥而至。不过要通过开放的应用程序界面生财却不是那么容易,因为你的客户可以说也在不断地被第三方应用吸走。Twitter过去两年里一直纠结于这个两难的局面。它悄悄地加强了对外部开发者的控制,对自身的API加以限制,并从第三方开发者那里夺取应用的控制权。这么一看,Twitter决定终止在LinkedIn上的同步也就可以理解了。这样做可以把消费者重新拉回到自己的网站,让他们使用自家品牌的应用,这样Twitter才能间接地把他们的关注拿来卖钱。

    这种解释听起来很合理。不过这是最佳的解决方案吗?科技企业家诺瓦•斯皮瓦克认为,Twitter作为一个单独的目标站点,它所能吸引到的访问量,永远无法与围绕在它的旗帜下的第三方应用形成的庞大的生态系统相比。与其收紧对API的控制权,与LinkedIn等应用一刀两断,Twitter倒不如另辟蹊径,利用现有的第三方应用的用户生钱。这种方法不仅听起来行得通,而且实际上也非常简单。

    比如Twitter可以把它的推广消息和其它广告直接推送到第三方应用使用的API流中去。这样一来,Twitter完全无需切断与LinkedIn的关系,LinkedIn的用户就可以在LinkedIn上直接看到推送来的广告信息。另外他们在登录Twitter时也会偶尔在首页上看到一些推广消息。这种安排似乎完全不是难事。

    不过,如果你觉得这些推广消息非常令人反感的话,那么还有第二个方案。Twitter可以设置一些高级API权限让开发者们购买——也就是没有推广消息和广告。不管采取哪个方案,Twitter都可以获得一笔来之不易的收入,外部开发者则可以保留API权限,消费者也可获得他们想要的功能。整个生态系统可以继续成长和繁荣发展。同时,Twitter也立即成了互联网的广告大户,足以与谷歌(Google)的AdSense和Facebook的广告业务呈鼎足之势。

    Like children of a troubled marriage, fans of Twitter and LinkedIn woke up this week wondering what went wrong. Asannounced last Friday, Twitter ended its tweet syndication agreement with LinkedIn. While LinkedIn users can still post status updates from the site on Twitter, their tweets will no longer show up within LinkedIn activity streams.

    The digerati have been busy dissecting the unexpected breakup. Mike Isaac of All Things D points out that many of Twitter's new features -- expandable tweets (that can show summaries and photos from sites like The New York Times) and threaded conversations -- weren't displaying on LinkedIn (LNKD). Twitter's own consumer product lead Michael Sippey echoes this explanation in a company blog post, cautioning developers that "[you] need to be able to see expanded Tweets and other features that make Twitter more engaging and easier to use."

    But money -- as in most domestic squabbles -- also appears to be a big part of the picture. Twitter makes much of its revenue (a reported $260 million last year) by selling the gaze of consumers' eyeballs to advertisers. In this respect, it's hardly different from a newspaper or any other media entity, as GigaOM's Mathew Ingram convincingly argues. In Twitter's case, companies like Virgin America or Red Bull or Coca-Cola (CCE) pay handsomely for promoted tweets, which show up in Twitter searches for relevant keywords or are injected directly into targeted users' timelines. Other ad options include the pricier promoted trends, as well as promoted accounts, which appear in users' "Who to follow" sidebars.

    But when third-party developers like LinkedIn tap into Twitter's API -- channeling tweets onto their services -- they siphon off a good chunk of those consumer eyeballs to their own sites. (Think of an API as a sort of master-key allowing outsiders to access Twitter's data and build apps on top of its platform.) Now, for years this has been done by an entire ecosystem of outside developers with Twitter's full blessing. In fact, the network's founder Biz Stone himself credited this approach as "arguably the most important, or maybe even unarguably, the most important thing we've done with Twitter." Fueled by a parallel universe of more than a million third-party apps and counting, Twitter has grown to a half-billion users in six short years.

    And there's the rub: Having a wide-open API is great for growth - users flood in as your network becomes a backbone for all kinds of innovative, useful apps. Monetizing a wide-open API can prove a bit tricky, however, since you're essentially funneling consumers away from your site. Twitter has struggled with this conundrum over the last two years, quietly tightening the reins on outside developers, restricting its API and wresting control of apps back from third parties. In this light, Twitter's decision to stop sending its tweets to LinkedIn begins to make sense, part of a larger push to channel consumers back to its own site and branded apps, where they can be monetized indirectly through ad sales.

    That seems logical enough. But is it the best solution? As serial tech entrepreneur Nova Spivack argues, Twitter as a single destination site will never capture as many eyeballs as the collective universe of third-party apps in its orbit. Instead of tightening its API and cutting off apps liked LinkedIn, wouldn't it be smarter for Twitter to find a way to monetize all of those existing third-party users? Not only does this seem to make sense, it would also be really easy to do.

    How? Twitter could inject its own promoted tweets and other ads right into the API stream used by third-party apps. So, for instance, LinkedIn users -- instead of facing a Twitter blackout -- would see all the tweets from their professional network, plus the occasional promoted tweet that they'd find on their Twitter homepage anyway. That hardly seems like a hardship.

    But suppose you do find those promoted tweets objectionable. That's where Plan B comes in. Developers would also have the option of paying Twitter for premium API access, enabling them to nix promoted tweets and other ads. Either way, Twitter gets its hard-won revenue, outside developers retain API access and consumers get the functionality they want. The entire ecosystem continues to grow and flourish. Plus, Twitter instantly becomes one of the web's ad powerhouses, with a network rivaling Google (GOOG) AdSense or Facebook (FB) Ads.

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