For just the second time in its history, Twitter has built a new smartphone app.
Sure, Twitter offers apps like Vine and Periscope. But it bought those. The company’s new app is the first Twitter has built from scratch since, well, the Twitter app itself. That’s a big deal—but, as it turns out, only if you speak code.
Reaching software developers these days is as important for Twitter as getting more millennials to trade micro-messages and six-second videos and real-time video streams. As the company has struggled to expand its reach under pressure from Wall Street investors, offering more tools for coders gives Twitter a way to pull outside apps into Twitter’s orbit.
Twitter, you see, offers a wide range of tools for developers collectively known as Fabric. The new Fabric mobile app lets coders to keep a close eye on the health of their own smartphone apps or Internet services. It’s basically an extension of an existing tool called Crashlytics, a way of identifying the cause of app crashes and otherwise monitoring app performance that’s used by tens of thousands of coders.
“We built this for the obsessive startup CEO who obsessively checks up on how his app is doing,” says Twitter product manager Meekal Bajaj.
Why does Twitter offer a wide range of tools for developers building all sorts of apps outside the Twitter universe? Well, Twitter wants those apps inside the Twitter universe. These tools help coders identify what makes an app crash, but they also help coders embed tweets in their apps and place advertisements via Twitter in-house MoPub system. All this is a vital way of, yes, expanding Twitter’s reach.
According to Twitter, these tools play into apps running across 1.5 billion mobile devices. That’s a sizable number. But a good number of those apps were probably using Crashlytics before Twitter acquired the service in 2013. The trick will lie in continuing to expand its developer community and, indeed, encouraging this community to feed the growth of Twitter proper.
But as important as cultivating a developer community can be it’s also a hard thing to pull off. Twitter at least has a firm strategy for building such a community, but this can’t always be fostered top-down. Facebook has cycled through many (failed) developer efforts over the years. Just last month, it shut down its latest effort, a high-profile acquisition called Parse.
But Twitter says that Fabric is built for the long haul. And its new app is a way to try to show that commitment.