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Twitter may be one of the most popular platforms on which developers and entrepreneurs are building applications, but in 2011, its relationship with developers has changed dramatically.
Last month, Twitter told developers that it should focus on developing tools that don't play a role in the core user experience for consumers. For the companies behind some of the most popular third party clients, the message was clear: thanks, but your services are no longer needed.
Time to move on, right? For some developers, perhaps. But according to a report, one developer, UberMedia, which makes a number of popular Twitter clients, including UberSocial, may be looking to move forward with an ambitious Plan B: build a Twitter competitor of its own.
According to CNN, "The service would seek to attract users by addressing common complaints about Twitter, such as its restriction on the length of a message and how it can be confusing to newcomers, according to these sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the plans."
Of course, such a strategy would be fraught with risk. Part of Twitter's appeal is its 140 character limit, and any confusion new users have is probably due in large part to the fact that, for many, it is seen as interesting but not necessarily useful.
Change the way a service like this is structured too much, and you don't really have a Twitter competitor; you have something entirely new. It's also entirely unclear whether a company that builds great apps for existing platforms is the type of company capable of building a great platform of its own.
But beyond all this, assuming UberMedia is seriously considering the possibility of building a Twitter-like service of its own, the real message here is that developing for 'other people's platforms' is a risky business.
Companies like UberMedia are subject to the whims of the companies operating the platforms they build for, and could, in theory, be pushed out of business overnight. For obvious reasons, that's an impediment to building a stable long-term business.
At the end of the day, the rumors around UberMedia and its Twitter clone hint that diversification as an 'app builder' is harder to accomplish than many would like to believe. While it's easy to tell app makers "don't put all your eggs in one basket," the reality is that there are only so many baskets worth putting eggs in. If you build social games, for instance, Facebook is where the money is at. Trying to distribute via MySpace, standalone properties, etc. might look good on paper, but the numbers (and dollars) simply don't add up.
From this perspective, app companies are probably going to have to let nature take its course. Yes, it pays to be strategic about what you build, and what platforms you build for, but beyond that, the best approach at this point may be finding contentment in getting what you can while the getting is good, and moving on when the going gets too tough.