announced today that it now has 1 million apps developed on top of its microblogging streams, social graph and API. The company says that at this time last year there were only 150,000 apps built on top of Twitter.Famously thrilling and troubled web app platform Twitter
A 6X expansion of apps built on top of Twitter between the company's 4th and 5th birthdays is truly remarkable. It's even more remarkable because it's been widely alleged that the developer community is unhappy with Twitter's leadership and feels disinclined to invest in building more apps. Happy or not, this is a huge jump in activity and I think the claim deserves a little investigation. Many people have guessed that the numbers aren't very solid, but there are a number of explanations that if combined could add up to this big, big jump.
Clearly the vast majority of these 1 million apps being built are experimental and never see the light of day. Some are no doubt internally facing at corporations. But there has always been basement tinkerers building on the Twitter API (thank goodness) - why were there 6 times as many last year as there were before? Twitter says that the 1 million apps were contributed by 750,000 developers - so the vast majority are only contributing one "app."
Twitter says that there are multiple factors that contributed. Here are the things I believe have contributed to the big, big growth of app numbers.
Website integrations account for a substantial number of what are counted as apps. Tweet buttons and Follow buttons are not included in the 1 million, though, Twitter spokesperson Jodi Olson tells me. WordPress integration of a Twitter account and its Tweets does count, though. As does the @anywhere feature that lets a site display a pop-up about any Twitter whose username is hovered over. This may be a big enough portion of the growth the 1 million number feels a little dishonest; developers critical of Twitter seem to think so and say this is just another example of the company misrepresenting itself for its own benefit.
When Twitter killed the unauthenticated version of its API, that did contribute "a one-time spike" in the number of apps the company was able to count, Olson says. That's probably a very big factor, but it indicates that there were a lot more apps in the wild than the company was aware of, too.
Another factor is that many developers are not unhappy with Twitter. The company's call that developers not build Twitter clients, its acquisition of favored startups in particular sectors, its preferential granting of access to the fire hose of content and an allegedly poor history of communication with its development ecosystem all added up to create the appearance of dissatisfaction. Many people we heard from today said they weren't unhappy, though.
Mobile app integration is on the rise. Tech analyst firm IDC performs quarterly interviews with more than 2,000 mobile app developers and found that 57.5% of mobile apps under development in Q1 included Twitter API integration. In Q2 that number jumped to 62.3%, according to Scott Ellison, IDC's VP of Mobile and Consumer Platforms. When iOS integrates Twitter and makes it easy for mobile apps to do so too - well, look out numbers.
The Salesforce acquisition of Radian6 for over $300 million probably help stir up a lot of app development as well. "Since December 2010, more than $500 million has been invested in ecosystem companies," Twitter wrote today, "and more than a billion dollars has been paid out in acquisitions."
Finally, there are a shortage of alternatives. Many people I heard from today said they didn't like building on Twitter but it's the best source of social data available. That may change when Google Plus releases an API.
All of those factors put together could very well contribute to explaining a large increase in developer interest in Twitter over the past year. Especially if you're willing to accept website integration as "an app."