In writing, you must kill your darlings.
— William Faulkner
Ever since my first reading, I have loved William Faulkner. His genius leapt through the page to punch the reader in the throat. And while this quote about murdering your darlings – your favourites, your supporters, your most dearly treasured – can truly be attributed to him is doubtful. But when it comes to creativity, there is a certain dramatic logic to it. After all, it’s easy to learn to love something that you have struggled to bring to life. And for the reader, that struggle – in the reading – is also acknowledged. We read in struggle or defiance as much as we read in love. So when an author kills her darlings, the characters, situations etc that she created, the reader also shares in the loss. The drama. The agony. And the surprise.
And this is the great reward.
But when I see this approach applied to businesses – especially to startups – I baulk. In this always-connected world, it’s a struggle to create something new, useful and easy to adopt (unless it’s a puppy). It is hard to “cut through”. Hard to build an audience and generate traction with a cynical community. And it is hard to attract customers, scale through your technical challenge, attract funding and talent, and build a culture that empowers employees, attracts customers and satisfies stakeholders.
In short, the challenge is in creating a participatory ecosystem with enough value to go around.
With this in mind, I greet the release of Twitter Analytics with a smile AND a shrug.It is great for Twitter users who have an interest in data, impact and so on, but it is yet another anti-ecosystem move. It’s like LinkedIn’s recent decision to close off API access to sites such as Nimble. On the one hand it makes sense. “Consolidate. Be all things to all people. Own the platform.” But on the other hand, it’s limited and limiting. It’s an attempt at monetising without an ecosystem vision. And it is an affront to the users who have invested not just in the platform (Twitter, LinkedIn and yes Facebook too), but in the ecosystem as well.
In some cases our investment has been made in dollars, but that usually pales into insignificance when we evaluate our time, effort and process commitments.
Now, there is no doubt that Twitter Analytics will be useful because it provides people like myself with access to powerful data analysis tools. I dare say, eventually, it will evolve into a suite of tools that I can pay for too (more ways to monetise).
But the release of Twitter Analytics will stop external growth and investment in the Twitter ecosystem. It means that the plethora of businesses (large and small) that have sprung up thanks to the goldmine of real-time data available through social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and yes, even Google+ have one less reason to be. And thousands of less customers to attract. On that list will be everyone from Tweetreach to Hootsuite.
But the bigger challenge that comes with killing your darlings, is that they are not yours alone. And when you turn on something your customers love, you lose a little bit of that love that we had for you. And eventually, as with all disruptions, there will come a time when something or someone newer and shinier will come along. That’s when you – Twitter – will want every ounce of loyalty to play out. But by then you’ll have squandered it.
If I have learned anything from the world of software, it is that ECOSYSTEMS WIN in the long run. And if you really do want to change the world and be part of every person’s digital life, the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn would do well to think big – not just for themselves, but for all their stakeholders. Kill your darlings by all means, just make sure your aim is true.