Twitter weaves Fabric, but will developers be drawn in?

Twitter wants to help developers build apps -- with more tie-ins to Twitter -- through Fabric

In addition to offering development tools at Flight, Twitter also offered food.

In addition to offering development tools at Flight, Twitter also offered food.

To identity Twitter solely as a micro-blogging service could be to do it a disservice. The company wants to be much more to developers building mobile apps, and at its Flight conference on Wednesday it welcomed them in.

Twitter unveiled Fabric on Wednesday, a broad software development kit aimed at helping developers build, grow and monetize their mobile apps. It includes tools for crash reporting, app log-ins, embedding and sharing Twitter posts, and measuring ad effectiveness.

The free SDK, more than a year in the making, could usher in a wave of rich apps with more tie-ins to Twitter. Its major components include Crashlytics, Twitter's crash-reporting system; a tool called Digits that lets users log in with a phone number instead of a password; and easier ways to embed Twitter content in apps and post to Twitter across iOS and Android.

Fabric is as much about building apps as it's about letting Twitter embed itself into the larger app ecosystem.

"We believe this is the future of mobile software development," Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said at the inaugural Flight conference in San Francisco.

But Fabric's success rests on the extent to which it's used by developers. And with Facebook and Amazon also in the room, there's no shortage of options in app development kits.

The Flight conference drew hundreds of developers from around the world. Their mood was generally optimistic, though some wondered how useful Fabric's tools will be or said they were still making up their minds.

Crashlytics, and the data it can now provide around user metrics, is great, said Yang Forjindam, founder of PocketSuite, an organization app for business users.

But Fabric more broadly? "It probably won't be universally applicable to all developers," Forjindam said, like those who aren't interested in weaving in more tweets, or who don't want to measure their ads with MoPub.

Others agreed. "Unless Fabric can add real value on top of other developer tools out there, I'm not sure there's a huge benefit of using it," said Shimon Shvartsbroit, an independent app developer and technology consultant from Israel.

But developers did generally seem excited about the Digits phone-number log-in option, which Twitter was really pushing at the show.

"It's a useful option to authenticate your identity," said Jack Gonzalez, co-founder of MapJam. The feature lets people enter their phone number to log into an app, instead of needing an email address and having to remember a password. They then receive a confirmation code via SMS, which they enter to access the app.

Digits presents an opportunity for Twitter to grow its user base in developing countries, where people are more likely to have a phone number but no email addresses.

MapJam has yet to build its own standalone app, Gonzalez said, and he was strongly considering using Twitter Fabric.

If the phrase "build, grow and monetize" sounds familiar, that's because Facebook is trying to do something similar with its own platform.

Developers at the show, however, weren't sure yet how competitive, or complementary, Twitter's services would be with Facebook's.

The best thing Twitter has going now is the attention of outside developers, they said.

"Look at the people here," said PocketSuite's Forjindam. "Twitter's got an ecosystem again."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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