Peter Kafka

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Twitter’s Developer Conference Starts Early, With a Group Therapy Session

Twitter was supposed to be assembling its far-flung network of developers in San Francisco this week for a pep rally and a peek at the company’s future.

Instead, it is trying to prevent a mass freak-out, brought on by Twitter’s apparent change in strategy last week: Rather than depending on outside developers to build out the service, it will compete with them, at least in some cases.

Twitter’s shift has worried enough of the messaging service’s top third-party developers that they’ve hastily scheduled their own summit for Tuesday. That’s a day before Twitter’s official “Chirp” conference kicks off.

The loosely organized gathering, assembled over the weekend via email, doesn’t have an official agenda. And Laura Fitton, the de facto ringleader, takes pains to describe it as something akin to a group therapy session (that’s my description, not hers).

“Nobody’s angry or irrational,” says Fitton, the founder of Twitter app directory oneforty. “People are just looking to gut-check each other, and see, if this worries you, what is it that worries you? And if it does worry you, what do you want to do about it?”

But other developers I’ve talked to who are planning to attend the pre-Chirp gathering are more explicit: They’re definitely worried.

“It’s a total mess. People just feel that the trust was broken,” says a developer who wants to remain anonymous.

“It’s very clear. The playing field is not going to be level,” says another, who also wants to keep his name out of print.

Twitter’s moves have even prompted some developers to sketch out a scenario in which they leverage their combined user bases to create a sort of alternative Twitter, based on an open platform. That one seems like an awfully long stretch, because it depends on convincing Twitter users–not just developers and their investors–that there’s a compelling reason to move.

A more likely scenario is that agitated Twitter developers take long looks at the advantages of  working with other “real-time” platforms–Facebook, Google’s (GOOG) Buzz, etc.–while continuing to work with Twitter. That won’t help them with their core problem–they’re always going to be dependent on someone’s platform. But, in a best-case scenario, it gives them more options.

In the meantime, Twitter doesn’t have to wait till Wednesday to soothe frayed nerves. Ryan Sarver, who oversees Twitter’s platform team, plans on visiting the pre-Chirp gathering. And Fitton says the group will be happy to hear from him–once they’re done venting in private.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle