If you haven't followed Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) too closely over the years, the announcement that it would host its first developers conference since 2010 wouldn't raise an eyebrow. After all, social media sites like Twitter and big brother Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) need app developers if they are to become a comprehensive experience. Facebook certainly recognizes the need to make the world of app development as easy, and profitable, as possible.
But Twitter's checkered application development history, even as recently as last week, adds another layer of intrigue to its just-announced mobile app dev conference dubbed "Flight." The Flight conference is intended to give mobile app developers the tools they need to make the most of Twitter, and will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco on Oct. 22.
Unfortunately, Twitter's dev conference has a certain measure of uncertainty, since it's seemingly gone out of its way in recent years to make life difficult on developers. Flight could be viewed either as Twitter's effort to turn the page and present itself to developers in a new light, or a shameless attempt to win back the very folks it has shunned.
Not only will developers get the tools they need to build great apps, but the Flight conference is Twitter's way of "kicking off a new era for developers," according to a blog post from the company. The conference will get begin with a keynote speech from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and end with a "meet and greet" happy hour in which developers can get some face time with Twitter engineers.
Twitter has also reorganized its dev site, and promises to add many more features to it in order to make the development process as easy and seamless as possible. Just as Facebook did at its F8 conference in April, Twitter hopes to bring new developers into the fold, as well as encourage those already familiar with the idiosyncrasies of building apps to ramp up their efforts.
A little background
Making the process of building, submitting, and getting paid for apps straightforward is a no-brainer for social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Not only does a full slate of available apps make the user experience more engaging, which in turn drives more use and boosts ad revenue, in-app ads and pay-to-download apps can also generate significant revenue, as download kings Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) know firsthand.
Enhancing the user experience and broadening its revenue streams provided the impetus for Facebook to host its first dev conference in three years this past spring. A key aspect of getting developers on board with Facebook, in addition to the obvious moneymaking opportunities, is to ensure the process of building, testing, and submitting apps is an easy one. Certainly, that will be near the top of Twitter's to-do list at Flight, but it will also have to address its contentious history with developers.
It was about this time two years ago that Twitter issued a blog post that enraged a slew of developers. In the missive, Twitter gave app developers six months to comply with what was perceived as a harsh set of rules, which left many unanswered questions, or get cut off. Some big app players, including Tumblr, balked at both the requirements and the tone of Twitter's message, and it wasn't long before the defections began.
As an example, within a month of Twitter posting its blog message, the popular StockTwits dumped the tweet master and went off on its own. StockTwits CEO Howard Lindzon summed up his decision this way: "We've moved off the platform and so will everyone else. If we hadn't done that, we would be dead in the water."
Just last week, photo-sharing company Twitpic was forced to close its doors or face legal action from Twitter. The Twitpic app had been a key component of Twitter since 2008, back when Twitter didn't even support images. And the Twitpic situation is hardly unique, as Twitter continues to crack down on apps even as it incorporates features of now-bygone apps into its own platform. Right or wrong, Twitter's sending its app partner of six years a cease and desist or we'll see you in court order is awfully harsh.
Final Foolish thoughts
Unlike Facebook's first dev conference in years, Twitter has more work to do than simply show developers how easy, and profitable, building apps for its platform can be. With so much underlying angst between Twitter and the development community, Flight needs to be as much about playing nice as it is about showing developers how to build the next killer mobile app. Can Twitter mend fences with disgruntled developers? We'll find out in San Francisco next month.