Looking to reinvent itself, Twitter launches Flock

Twitter is attempting to reinvent itself by reaching out to developers—and is taking its pitch on the road. The company kicked off Twitter Flock, a worldwide tour of 18 cities, with a standing room only event in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Flock is part of Twitter's push to transition from a place where people go to tweet, to an infrastructure and ad supplier for mobile apps. Its success hinges on getting developers to adopt Fabric, the company's new developer toolkit it rolled out in October.

"Fabric is important for Twitter because we want to be an embedded part of the developers' life cycle right from when they start building their app and support them as they grow and as they start monetizing," said Bear Douglas, one of Twitter's lead developer advocates.

The Twitter logo is displayed on the facade of the company's headquarters in San Francisco.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Twitter logo is displayed on the facade of the company's headquarters in San Francisco.

The tour represents an unprecedented grass-roots effort to get developers on board. "We want to go out and meet people where they are, where they're building, hear the challenges that they're facing, see how we can help them and see what comes out of the whole thing," said Douglas.

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On stage in Los Angeles, Douglas and her team talked about how Fabric can help developers build their apps, and shared lessons learned from building the software developer kits for Twitter, Crashlytics, the company's debugging and testing tool, and MoPub, its mobile ad exchange.

"One of the things that inspired us to create this platform was that we had some bumps along the road ourselves when we were creating our mobile app," Douglas told developers, referring to the company's struggles with the "fail whale," and the solution it found in its acquisition of Crashlytics.

Developers' feedback at Thursday's event was largely positive. "There's a lot of people, a lot of companies here, the mingling has been pretty amazing," said Sergio Trevino, a senior software engineer at HR Cloud, software service for human resources professionals.

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HR Cloud is not yet using Fabric, and Trevino was looking to understand how it might integrate Twitter's new tools. "I need more tips, you know, we're not very familiar with the platform, but we're evaluating our new technologies that we're gonna use, and this is definitely one of them. ... There are many services out there, but if we can just integrate it into one place, I think that's pretty valuable for our business."

Benjamin Magos, an iOs engineer for PayForward, an app for collecting charitable donations, is already using Fabric and wanted face time with Twitter's team. "I think in general it's good to communicate and learn about all their latest developments in every area of the industry," said Magos.

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Twitter will be joined by local developers at each stop along the way. In Los Angeles, executives from dating app Tinder, owned by IAC took the stage. "We're proud users of their products, Crashlytics has helped us for a long time now," said Jonathan Badeen, Tinder's co-founder and vice president of product. Badeen also talked about how he developed the animation allowing users to swipe right or left to select or reject dates.

With this new set of developer tools, Twitter is taking on Google, Facebook and Amazon, which all support the back-end infrastructure for third-party mobile apps. It remains to be seen if developers will buy in, but it's clear that CEO Dick Costolo is betting the Flock team will shore up Fabric's success. Next stop: Las Vegas.

Proving that geeks are the new rock stars, Twitter's team of developer advocates is piling into a converted tour bus. "There are going to be about 10 of us throughout this whole trip. It's going to take about three weeks, so we're going to get to know one another a lot better!" said Douglas.

The bus is complete with beds, bathroom, kitchenette and Wi-Fi. "We'll be tweeting from the bus. We're going to be talking to people that we meet around the country and if they have interesting start-ups to tell us about or stories about the apps that they're making, we are so excited to have those conversations and spread the word while we're on the bus," Douglas added. Twitter's developer advocates will hit major tech hubs and small communities alike, adding stops along the way for tweeted requests #TwitterDrive.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of the company PayForward.