What chance does a consumer internet company have if it doesn’t own the relationship with its most important set of users?

According to Howard Lindzon, one of the biggest angel investors in TweetDeck, that is one very good reason for Twitter to buy the desktop client that is beloved by many of its own power-users (a deal that The Wall Street Journal says is at an advanced stage of negotiation.)

Such a deal would speak volumes about Twitter’s evolution. In particular, it would show:

Twitter is finally unabashed about marking out its territory. Having unnerved independent developers with earlier acquisitions and vague attempts to spell out its policies, putting down $50m for TweetDeck would be a clear statement of intent. It would show that the company realises it can no longer shirk the responsibility of being the leading innovator in user experiences for the Twitter ecosystem.

The battle with Bill Gross is intensifying. Gross, head of Idealab, tried to outflank Twitter a year ago by launching “sponsored tweets”, before the micro-blogging service came up with a similar service of its own. This year he has been building a position in Twitter clients through his investment vehicle UberMedia (there were reports two months ago that he was close to buying TweetDeck himself.)

This was Lindzon’s view, when we caught up with him on Monday: “It can’t make sense [for Twitter] to let this fall into the hands of Bill Gross. It’s a war.”

Twitter may not be above using some rough tactics to get its way. Soon after the report of talks between TweetDeck and Gross, Twitter temporarily blocked two of Gross’s Twitter clients from accessing its tweets. That may well have softened TweetDeck up and made it more willing to consider a deal now – that, and the fact that Twitter may be offering as much as twice what Gross was willing to pay.

Twitter declined to comment, but it has ample reason to act. “The power-users are everything,” says Lindzon, for whom a sale of TweetDeck would be a big payday. “You have to keep your power-users happy.”

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