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Nov. 4, 2011, 10:30 a.m.

Why is Twitter meeting with developers for tea time?

Interest in the Twitter API is high so the company is setting up face time with developers of all stripes — including media outlets.

As a technology platform, Twitter is the kid on the playground everyone wants to play with. And when you have that much interest — in Twitter’s case, people intrigued by their API — you have to find a way to reach as many of them as possible.

This fall Twitter embarked on a tour they’re calling Developer Teatime, where engineers, designers, and other members of the Twitter team meet with people looking to put the platform to use. It’s punch and pie, Q&A, and for developers a little face time with the people who work under the hood. For a while, the company had been holding similar meetings at their HQ in San Francisco, but pretty as the bay may be (and central for plenty of tech companies), they knew they had to get on the road, Ryan Sarver told me.

“So much of what we do in managing the ecosystem is understanding the myriad ways people use the platform,” said Sarver, Twitter’s head of Platform. “And it’s hard to get that view in an office reading emails and articles.”

They’ve visited London, Los Angeles, and New York, with planned stops in Chicago, Seattle, and Tokyo. Who’s sipping the tea? Entrepreneurs, app makers, independents — people building messaging clients, visualizations, analysis tools, and more. And yes, Sarver said, it also includes media companies. In fact, Sarver and Erica Anderson, Twitter’s news and journalism manager, told me a media-only developers teatime could be planned at some point. “In the future, I would love to do another one of these events to bring in engineers from news organizations,” Anderson said.

One reason for the traveling show is to give a kind of Twitter State of the Union — but also to give tips on where they see the platform going. Sarver estimates about a half billion dollars have been invested into developers, companies, and others that are part of the Twitter ecosystem in the last six months. With that much cash, and potential upside, Twitter is trying to point people toward a few growing fields like analytics, publishing, curation, and content. That’s all manifested in apps like Instagram and Foursquare, services like Mass Relevance or SocialFlow, or analytics companies like Radian6, which was acquired by Salesforce for over $300 million earlier this year.

While those are all the big guns, there’s a universe of smaller developers working on projects that Twitter wants to chat up, so that means doing Q&A’s on technical questions, as well as what direction the company is heading. “We want to have that open and honest dialog with the community,” Sarver said. (He got notice earlier this year for telling developers to ease up on the certain types of apps.)

This year, Twitter reached 100 million active monthly users and 400 million monthly visitors to the website. And that user base will no doubt grow with the release of iOS 5, which integrated Twitter directly into Apple’s mobile products — giving Jack Dorsey the perfect opportunity to make a renewed pitch to developers: “Very soon, anywhere there’s an iPhone or an iPad, you’ll always find Twitter. If you’re an iOS developer, you can add Twitter to your application to personalize the experience for your users, giving them easier and better ways to login, enrich their experience, share thoughts and content and help boost your distribution.”

Saver said by their count there are more than 750,000 developers around the world working on the Twitter platform. Needless to say, there’s audience to grab and money to be had, and given the symbiotic relationships that APIs create, putting on a charm offensive works for Twitter and the developers. What all of this means for news is that there’s plenty of opportunity, as well as plenty of competition. Anderson said she’s seeing no slack in interest from media companies asking questions about the API. While some are ready to wrench on their own apps and tools, others are at the beginning and looking for documentation to get them started.

“We see news organizations are very interested in bringing the editorial and engineering staffs together to create more interactive and engaging content in real-time,” Anderson said.

Image from Penguin & Fish used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 4, 2011, 10:30 a.m.
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