San Francisco-based Twitter has acquired mobile bug-fighter Crashlytics, but unlike many of its other acquisitions, Twitter plans to keep the Cambridge-based team in place and independent. Here’s why the start-up is a great fit for the mother nest, and what it might tell us about Twitter’s strategy down the road.
Given Twitter’s early history, where it was as well known for its Fail Whale as it was for its ability to connect people through 140 characters, it’s easy to understand the company’s strong interest in making sure its big mobile push scales up more smoothly than its early web efforts.
This is particularly important now for three key reasons that are driving current Twitter strategy and will decide whether the company can thrive as a stand-alone social network.
The first is the company’s new emphasis on rich-media “cards,’’ little embeds that pull in everything from YouTube videos and New York Times stories to GitHub stats and Twitter’s new Vine snippets.
These cards have significantly jazzed up the user experience, but with Twitter’s emphasis on a unified user experience, allowing third-parties to inject cards means thousands or tens of thousands of new edge cases and surprises on all the platforms Twitter supports, and a WebKit bug that shutters iOS can suddenly become a very big deal.
This is exactly the sort of wide-ranging problem that Crashlytics can perfectly help fix.
The second strategic change is Twitter’s own clampdown on third-party apps, meaning that it can be better control and monetize this experience through its own platform — as long as that platform remains stable.
Cutting out third-party apps only makes sense if the return on improved advertising and user experience outweighs the loss of developer goodwill and loss of user choice, and to execute on that, the bar for Twitter’s own apps has to be raised significantly, even as those apps are called on to handle a wider variety of material.
Because Twitter’s native iPhone and Android apps are now the primary vehicle for Twitter, more essential than the strangled API and at least as essential as the Twitter web interface, means keeping those platforms stable takes prime importance.
And finally, those above reasons ultimately play into Twitter’s focus on improved, innovative advertising through rich-media cards and mobile platforms that deliver ads as expected.
It turned out 140-character Tweets, while able to incite revolutions, aren’t always as great as shilling for your local supermarket until you offer advertisers more control than a simple hashtag can offer.
Being able to confidently say that new messaging capabilities will be able to perform consistently across platforms is a powerful sell, while a high-profile flop can scare away follow on advertisers already nervous about making serious investments in social media (See GM’s very public Facebook departure).
I also have a hunch that Crashlytics, so expert at giving insight into app performance, could easily morph into a more generalized analytics platform. Instead of letting Twitter know when and why an app crashed, the same technology could provide insights into how users engage with cards, could show big spenders what they’re getting for their money, and help Twitter better hone its monetized engagement. But even without that shift in focus, improving consistent performance and reliability across platforms for these new, tricky strategic areas makes Crashlytics a natural fit for Twitter and likely well worth the money if the integration goes as planned.
What’s really interesting is that the company is keeping Crashlytics open for businessand relatively independent, working with company’s like Paypal, Yammer, Square and Walmart.
Again, this plays into the importance of partnerships and communication for Twitter’s future success. As Twitter started clamping down on developers, they complained that Twitter’s rich ecosystem is what made it succeed in the first place.
They were right, and Twitter realizes a rich ecosystem is still essential to its future: It’s just this time, that ecosystem is made up of big budget advertisers, and not the indie app developers of yesterday. Already, Crashlytics customer base is a marquee list of these customers, and servicing their mobile marketing efforts is Twitter’s best multi-billion dollar opportunity.