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The Great Twitter Transformation Is Nearly Complete

From one type of platform to another one. A big departure and the end of an era.

Posted on May 31, 2013, at 5:46 p.m. ET

Ryan Sarver, Twitter's director of "Platform" and a four-year vet of the company, today announced that he's leaving.

Sarver's departure marks the end of a formative era for Twitter. His job, in broad terms, was to manage Twitter as a platform for developers. In Twitter's early days, that meant helping them make great apps, a large portion of which were clients, and some of which were very successful (it's easy to forget that for a long time Twitter was both wildly successful on smartphones and didn't have any official apps.) In 2010, his role entailed telling developers things like this:

We love the Twitter ecosystem and work hard every day to help support you and make the platform you are building on as successful as it can be for everyone involved. We love the variety that developers have built around the Twitter experience and it's a big part of the success we've seen.

Then came the beginning of the great Twitter shift. In 2012, Sarver's job – at least the most public part of it — was to explain to those same developers why Twitter needed to gradually shut off access to the parts of its platform they were best accustomed to using.

That's not to say Twitter isn't a platform anymore. It's just a completely different one: Twitter in 2010 was a platform for apps and clients; Twitter in 2013 is a platform for content, and maybe for brands (that word! That cursed word).

Being a Twitter developer used to be about helping Twitter grow; apps were designed, as all apps are, to gain users for themselves and, by extension, for the service they were based on. Now, Twitter development is focusing on one thing: the individual tweet. Twitter Cards — the company's name for its increasingly complex tweet attachments — are the new platform. Tweets can now contained embedded summaries, images, videos, links to apps, galleries and even product prices. And in a recent blog post, Twitter promised to open them up even more:

Finally, with this update to Cards, we've fundamentally re-architected the way Cards are created and delivered. The new Cards system lays a foundation that will make it easier for us to develop more types of Cards in the future and allow for greater customization by publishers and developers.
The tweet, in other words, is Twitter's new platform. The old platform was about getting people to use Twitter. The new one is about making money from them.