MacMillan details some of the risks inherent in building apps in such an ecosystem:
- The rules can change, as happened with the Facebook platform's de-emphasization of third-party apps
- The API can change, as happened when Twitter abruptly deprecated some of the API methods that developers had come to rely on
- The API provider (symbiotic host) can decide to launch their own feature or app that renders the developer's app obsolete - a risk that is not dissimilar to what happened to Odeo, the company out of which Twitter sprang, when the iTunes music store added podcast support
- The API provider can suffer outages, bugs, or slow performance
- The API provider gets bought, and that can result in any of the above
As I said to MacMillan, "Ultimately, Twitter exists to make money for Twitter." Happily, Twitter recognizes that the fastest path to doing so involves building a symbiotic relationship with a bunch of great developers, and they in turn build apps that result in user growth and more revenue for Twitter.
Twitter's challenge is to manage this balance in a way that benefits both sides, and the developers' challenge is to build apps and business models that are sustainable even as the rules, capability and performance of Twitter's API evolve.
Twitter's growth to date is testament to the success that both sides have achieved to date. Symbiotic relationships are not without risk, but those who are unwilling to take risks cede the rewards to those who are.