Is Twitter's dead developer conference another nail in its coffin?

Twitter will not host its annual Flight developer conference this year amid speculation and uncertainty about the company's future. Its bruised relationship with developers may be a sign of what's to come.

Twitter has never been very good at showing developers love.

Within weeks of being formally re-appointed as Twitter CEO last fall, Jack Dorsey issued a long overdue mea culpa to the company's bruised developer community. Upon his return to the social media organization he cofounded and led until 2008, Dorsey took the stage last October at Twitter Flight, the company's annual developer conference, to apologize to developers, plead for their patience and ask for another chance to reset their relationships.

"Somewhere along the line, our relationship with developers got a little bit complicated, a little bit confusing and a little bit unpredictable," Dorsey said last year at Twitter Flight. Rebuilding relations is "going to take some time, it's not going to happen overnight. I commit to you that we will make the right decisions and serve this community in the right way."

[Related: Twitter CEO proves he still doesn't get it]

Those proclamations proved hollow this week when the company confirmed to Recode.net that it won't host Twitter Flight in 2016 and will instead focus on smaller regional meetups with developers. (The company's first developer conference was in 2014.) Twitter has hosted similar regional meetups with developers for many years, and while they can provide more intimate settings for Twitter to build and repair developer relations, they're no equal to the annual soirees large technology companies host to rally the troops, provide guidance and tease new projects.

Twitter's developer problems symptomatic of larger issues

With its decision to cancel the annual developer conference, Twitter is pulling away from developers both symbolically and symptomatically. The move shows Twitter's lack of confidence amid growing uncertainty about its future as an independent company. "Regardless of what their reasons were for not hosting the event this year, it will be taken as a sign that things are not going well for Twitter," says Raul Castanon-Martinez, senior analyst at 451 Research. "If Twitter had long-term plans I seriously doubt they'd be doing this because they have invested in rebuilding their relationship with developers."

Castanon-Martinez also doesn't think the company will have a developer conference in 2017.

In light of all the recent speculation around Twitter's future, holding back on a developer conference might be a good idea, according to Brian Blau, vice president of research at Gartner. A high-profile event could expose the company to additional risk and uncomfortable questions that Twitter would rather avoid right now, Blau says "Maybe they don't want attention. They don't want the scrutiny."

[Related: Twitter apologizes to, tries to woo back, developers]

Twitter's relationship with developers is an ongoing "comedy of errors," according to Castanon-Martinez. "Twitter has repeatedly disappointed developers, pulling the rug from under the people that are creating value for the company and finding new ways for user-generated content," he says. "You can only get away with this so many times, and Twitter probably crossed the line a while ago."

Developers and users hoping for updates from Twitter, signs of progress or an opportunity to hear the company's top brass speak on the big stage, could have to wait a long time. Twitter's days of holding large developer conferences might be long gone.

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Matt Kapko

CIO (US)
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