What is Twitter Fabric?

Twitter has acquired dozens of companies since its inception and contrary to popular belief, these are not exclusively talent deals. The acquisitions of Crashlytics (Jan 2013), an app crash testing tool, MoPub (Sep 2013), a mobile ad exchange, and TapCommerce, (Jun 2014), a mobile app retargeting tool, have reportedly each cost the company over $100M and have added core mobile products that it is leveraging today.

So what’s the purpose behind all of these acquisitions and how are they linked? Twitter answered that question on October 22 at its Flight Conference when it announced Fabric, a modular mobile software developer kit (SDK), which leverages parts of each of these acquisitions, as well as capabilities it built in-house.

What is an SDK? It’s a set of software development tools that allow third party developers to build applications for a particular company or software package. Its primary purpose is to simplify otherwise time-consuming development tasks for developers and hopefully provide value to the company offering the SDK (in this case Twitter).

Fabric SDK has three modules, described briefly below.

Twitter Kit

Twitter Kit has three main features. “Sign-in with Twitter” simplifies the authentication process for new users. “Native tweet embed” makes it easy for developers to integrate tweets into their apps. “Digits” allows new users to sign up for apps with just a phone number.

Crashlytics Kit

Crashlytics Kit also has three main features: Crashlytics, Answers, and Beta. Crashlytics allows app developers to see what part of the code caused a crash and which users were affected, in order to quickly stabilize the app. Answers provides analytics on app usage. Beta allows developers to do beta testing and get user feedback.

MoPub Kit

MoPub Kit integrates with MoPub, a mobile ad exchange, to place ads into 3rd party apps so developers can monetize their traffic.

For a more information on Fabric, check out Twitter’s press release.

So why has Twitter invested hundreds of millions of dollars to launch an SDK – especially when two of the three modules don’t seem to relate to the core product (tweets)? Fabric allows Twitter to deepen its relationships with app developers, which can help create additional network effects and attract new users to its core product.

Being a platform business is the Holy Grail for technology companies. If executed well, you can create network effects, barriers to entry, and significant scale leading to enormous returns. Just look at Apple and Google – their aggregate market cap exceeds $1 trillion! This is in large part because of the iOS and Android platforms that allow them to profit from the explosion of mobile devices and the related ecosystem.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook don’t have the ability to develop a mobile OS, which is pretty clearly a two-horse race now. So how do they avoid being relegated to just another app sitting on your home screen, or worse yet tucked away in some folder?

They need to leverage their assets – the real-time communications layer and the social layer, respectively – to build or expand platforms they do have. Facebook has done this through acquisitions such as Parse, a mobile back-end-as-a-service provider of development tools, which is the basis for some of its SDK offerings. Twitter is hoping that Fabric will allow it to become an indispensible resource to developers as well.

How can Fabric create network effects for Twitter? Below are two examples:

  1. Offering developers an easy sign-in process (Sign-in with Twitter or Digits), which will drive higher app usage (by removing sign-up friction), which will drive more developers to use the SDK. Part of the Twitter Kit is tweet embed, so the hope is that developers will also integrate this feature into their apps thereby expanding Twitter’s distribution and hopefully accelerating new Twitter user sign-ups.
  2. Offering developers a tool to monetize their app traffic (MoPub). As more developers use the MoPub Kit, more advertisers will want to buy ad inventory, which will drive more developers to use MoPub. Twitter clearly benefits from this, as it will earn a share of the advertising revenue.

Ultimately developer relationships come down to proving your value. Can your SDK help developers grow and monetize their user base? If Twitter can do that, developers will happily use Fabric SDK and Twitter will benefit from the additional distribution and monetization.

References

https://blog.twitter.com/2014/introducing-fabric

 


2 Comments

  1. Yongju Shin

    I think that this approach of Twitter is a great way to expand its business and to create more network effect by luring more users into doing Twitter. Twitter Kit and Crashlytics Kit have features that are definitely convenient for many users. Simplying the verification process and crash checking are some attributes that most users might like. However, the caveat for Twitter Fabric is that some users may not like more ads than they already have now. Mopub Kit, in that aspect, might be prone to fail, failure, in this case, meaning losing potential users or not creating the network effect that Twitter thought it would create. Collaboration with other app developers is good, but is it also good for the users? That's something to think about.

  2. Dhruv Chopra

    Great article Amit, and I agree with the synergies these acquisition bring in creating positive network effects for Twitter.

    Applying the mobilization strategies we have discussed in class, the Crashlytics acquisition can have many positive ramifications for Twitter's platform. Firstly, it is reducing barriers to entry for developers to write code for the platform. By providing developers data on usage and crash analytics, as well as providing tools to make beta testing easier, the platform becomes more lucrative to developers to join. Secondly, it can also be a strong signal tactic, a method for Twitter to convey to the developer community that they are serious about the platform and willing to invest in the developer's success.

    It truly seems like developer resource is the real constraint for platforms, and encouraging and incentivizing developers is a real challenge. Based on what we've learned, the Twitter strategy seems to be headed in the right direction. If a developer is able to create a "killer app" using these tools and drive profitability for both themselves and Twitter, we might see many more developers follow suite and spur the network effects.