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The report from Chirp, Twitter's first gathering of its developer ecosystem

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 15, 2010 09:15 AM

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About a thousand folks who develop applications related to Twitter gathered in San Francisco yesterday for Chirp, Twitter's first-ever developers conference. 

Cambridge-based Oneforty, a site that serves as a marketplace for Twitter-related apps, helped throw what was the big pre-conference party on Tuesday night. And two Boston-area investors, Bijan Sabet from Spark Capital (who serves on Twitter's board) and Mike Hirshland from Polaris Venture Partners, were on a panel yesterday about investing in the Twitter ecosystem. Former Skyhook Wireless evangelist Ryan Sarver, now working at Twitter, was also on the agenda, talking about Twitter's platform roadmap.

The minor news announced before Chirp was Twitter's acquisition of Tweetie, a one-man start-up which makes an iPhone and desktop client for viewing and posting Twitter messages. And the major news was Twitter's new advertising model, which involves highlighting tweets from paid sponsors.

I asked Sabet and Hirshland via e-mail for their take on the gathering.

Hirshland said he sensed the "latent tension between developers and Twitter," noting that the "elephant in the room is that Twitter pursuing [its] own business necessarily involves some conflict with the developer ecosystem. Twitter and developers both need to figure out how the post-business-model Twitter can still support [a] great developer community."

Not surprising that Sabet, whose Newbury Street firm is an investor in Twitter, had a slightly different take. "Amazing how much the entire Twitter ecosystem has grown," he wrote, observing that there are now more than 100,000 Twitter-related apps. "It's wonderful to see this much energy." Sabet says that new Twitter features like @anywhere (which makes it possible to integrate more Twitter functionality into other Web sites) and annotations (which allows labels, tags, and other metadata to be added to tweets) "will make the platform that much richer for developer innovation." 

I also caught up with Mike Langford, who runs Westborough-based Tweetworks, just as he was leaving the conference yesterday afternoon. 

Langford's opinion is that Twitter's new advertising model will be "good for the ecosystem." (People who create Twitter apps or Twitter-related sites can show sponsored Tweets and share in the revenue 50-50 after costs, similar to the way Google's AdSense network generates earnings for Web publishers.) "It gives developers a mechanism for them to monetize their work, and it doesn't eliminate other monetization strategies you may want to have, like banner ads or pro-level accounts."

Echoing some of Hirshland's comments, Langford said he sensed some unease among his fellow developers about other companies Twitter might acquire; no tiny start-up wants to suddenly find itself competing with the mothership. "I think it is hard to be clear on what the division is going to be between what Twitter wants to do and what developers can do," Langford said. "That's important for developers to be clear on, and the investment community that may put money into developers."

As I finished my chat with Langford, he mentioned that he was boarding a bus for the Chirp "Hack Day" event, which ran all night last night and continues today.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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