The two exciting areas of application development if you are thinking in terms of making a profit, especially if you are a small independent, are the iPhone and Twitter. The big difference is that everyone knows how to cash in on the iPhone but Twitter is more of a mystery. Both show explosive growth in user base but the iPhone range of hardware has a well developed market for applications. Twitter on the other hand doesn't seem to have a clear strategy for making money itself, let alone passing on the riches to third party developers.
Twitter now seems to be taking the challenge of both reaping the rewards of success and encouraging developers to join as evidenced by the recent and first ever Chirp developer conference - and no jokes about 140 character presentations or keynotes. The name "Chirp" was picked to complement "Tweet" in that it's the sound a young chick with lots of promise for the future is supposed to make.
At the conference held in San Fransisco on 14th and 15th April 2010 Twitter announced that it now has more than 105 million users and the sign up rate is 300,000 per day. Clearly this is a big market for any developers capable of thinking up and implementing a marketable idea. It also claimed more than fifty thousand registered applications based on the Twitter platform. An estimated 800 developers attended the conference.
Day One of the conference was mostly about business opportunities and marketing hype with a lot of talk of "monetization" - not really developer material - but following this was a "Hack Day" which focused on the API and things technical. The Hack Day featured an informal atmosphere and bean bags to sit on. Multiple sessions were organised on streaming, searching, analyzing data, scaling, authentication and general guidelines and best practices.
Although there has been a Twitter API for some time and developers have been able to use it, new features are always an encouragement. Twitter announced some important extensions: a geolocation service that is intended to compete with the likes of Foursquare; a User Stream API and a URL shortening service.
The geolocation service opens up lots of new possiblities such as searching for tweets by location, but whether it will prove useful enough for end users to pay for isn't clear. The URL shortening service is something that should have been available from the start and is just making up for an oversight. Currently Twitter uses Bit.ly.
The User Stream API sounds more interesting if you are looking to innovate. It provides access to additional data such as friends, favourites and so on and will allow annotations via metadata that can be added to any tweet.
It also announced a new Twitter app for the Android although it could argued that this is just more competition for third party developers. It already has apps for most of the mobile platforms and plans to release more - iPhone, BlackBerry etc. As Twitter adds more official applications to its portfolio this is bound to hurt developers with applications that do the same job.
To coincide with the conference Google announced two new Twitter-based projects. The first is a popularity tracker that shows how the frequency of a search keyword varies with time - and all in real time. You can see this in action as a demo. The second project is Google Follow Finder which as the name suggests finds people for you to follow. My guess is that if you are going to make a profit you will have to think up something more compelling than a follower finder.
If Twitter wants to encourage developers, conferences and API improvements are obviously good initiatives but a Twitter hosted app market place would probably make all the difference.