Why Twitter bought Crashlytics

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

When most people experience the famous Twitter Fail Whale, they grimace and come back later. When a similar performance issue occurs on the average mobile app, however, consumers may be much more likely to drift away forever. That's what made Crashlytics so potentially valuable to app developers, and why it may become even more valuable to Twitter itself.

Twitter acquired Crashlytics, a startup that focused on bug reporting and analysis for iOS apps, last month. For an organization that was only about a year old, Crashlytics had already racked up an impressive number of clients: PayPal, SoundCloud, Yelp and, not coincidentally, Twitter.

As a business, Crashlytics' timing was been spot-on. In the days of desktop software, development teams of major software vendors would sift through largely anecdotal evidence to try to identify whether a problem was part of a larger trend that pointed to an inherent design flaw or vulnerability. But in the mobile world, that doesn't cut it anymore. Consumers are far more demanding and fickler--harder to acquire, tougher to engage and sometimes nearly impossible to retain. Bug fixes need to be faster, even if it's just a game or other time-waster. The Crashlytics SDK helped developers quickly get to the root of problems in a more automated fashion.

Not surprisingly, Twitter offered no real context around its acquisition of Crashlytics. But consider what Twitter is becoming. Like Facebook, its core features are not easily monetized, but it offers great potential as a platform for online advertising. Unlike Facebook, however, the landscape in Twitter is a lot smaller--you can only do so much with sponsored tweets and specialty hashtags. More likely Twitter will position itself as a place where third-party apps using video (like its recently launched Vine service), games and other social sharing tools can drive innovative marketing campaigns. Big brands won't put up with a Fail Whale, though. As Twitter becomes more like a big business, it will strive to achieve what IT departments describe as "99.999" percent reliability, and Crashlytics may give Twitter that capability.

Given that developers also use Twitter as a place to discuss ideas, share product development details, reach out to target markets and promote what they're offering in the app stores, Crashlytics may mend some of the fences Twitter broke when it started clamping down on third-party apps. So far Twitter appears to be treating Crashlytics as a relatively independent company, which would be great for the developer community as a whole. An organization of Twitter's size may be better positioned to help grow Crashlytics and turn it into an industry-standard tool. We all want better-performing apps--or at least a way to fix bugs in about the time it would take to complain about one on Twitter.--Shane