Twitter Is Selling Its Developer Platform to Google as It Continues to Shrink
When it was introduced by Twitter with much fanfare in 2014, the Fabric developer platform was supposed to be a game changer for the company. It was a way of appealing to mobile app developers by giving them a suite of tools that integrated with Twitter in order to make the short-messaging service that much more indispensable.
Although the team behind Fabric says it was successful in helping app developers reach more than 2.5 billion active mobile devices, any future success will belong to someone else now. Twitter (TWTR) announced on Wednesday that it has sold the platform to Google (GOOGL) for an undisclosed sum, effective immediately.
As for why it decided to sell, all Twitter would say is that it made the decision because it is “focusing on our core products and businesses, to best position Twitter for long-term growth.” The company also recently shut down its Vine video-sharing app, which had become popular with a wide range of creative users.
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In its announcement, Twitter made a point of saying that developers “are an important part of the Twitter ecosystem, and have been since the earliest days.”
There is a world of pain and heartbreak contained in this short comment, however, especially for any developers that built products or services on top of Twitter’s API (the code that lets external services access information from Twitter) several years ago.
While the company was extremely open to third-party services in its early days, that changed rather abruptly around 2011.
After entrepreneur Bill Gross launched a Twitter-like service called UberTwitter that would not only import tweets but also display advertising around them, the company had what one early investor described as a “holy sh**” moment. It responded by closing off API access not just to Gross but to a wide range of other applications over the following months.
One observer at the time described Twitter as being like “a drunk guy with an Uzi,” wandering around shooting up its third-party ecosystem, and many developers said they felt betrayed—especially because many of the things that made Twitter special and helped it grow were not developed by the company itself but by users and by outside services.
Twitter co-founder and former CEO Evan Williams admitted in 2010 that the company had screwed up its relationship with developers, and as a kind of olive branch it held a developer conference called Chirp, which was designed to be much like Facebook’s similar F8 conference.
There was only one Chirp, however. Williams was ousted and replaced by his former COO Dick Costolo, who focused on building Twitter’s business in preparation for an initial public offering. And third-party developers were mostly not invited to that party. A select few were given API access, and some of the most successful (like the analytics service Gnip) were acquired.
Fabric was supposed to be part of a rapprochement with developers. Twitter offered them tools designed to make signing up and authenticating with Twitter much easier, and also offered an easy way to integrate with the service’s ad platform, as well as data on their users, signups etc.
New (and former) CEO Jack Dorsey promised at the Flight conference that Fabric was just part of an ongoing attempt to mend fences with third-party developers, an effort to “reset” a relationship he said had gotten “confusing and unpredictable.”
Now those relationships will belong to Google, at least as far as Fabric is concerned. Twitter says it is still committed to developing its APIs, including its mobile ad-network service. But its dream of making Twitter a core part of the mobile app universe appears to be over.