Posts tagged Backend
Facebook’s Native Mobile Problem With Open Graph
In 2010, Facebook attempted to redefine the meaning of “verbs” in the Web Era. The company’s Open Graph turned users actions (such “Jon ran” or “Susie listened”) into status updates, tied to Web apps. The Open Graph opened up a new world of data to Facebook and its developer community. But there was a hitch and, like many of Facebook’s recent issues, the source was mobile. In the Mobile Era, Facebook’s Web-centric approach has caused it many problems, from monetization to user experience in its mobile app on iOS and Android.
On the other hand, Facebook’s biggest strength is its ability to make connections between its users’ friends, what they “like” and what they do. The more threads that Facebook can tie to a user, the better able it is to sell advertising to them. That makes Open Graph the biggest single innovation Facebook has introduced in the last few years.
Integrating Open Graph has been a problem since the it was announced in 2010 and expanded in late 2011 to include the new Timeline profile. Apps with Web-based back ends, such as Spotify, have been easily able to use Open Graph but the option for most native developers was beyond their means. But developers with “native” mobile apps had to go through extraordinary lengths to tie the Open Graph to their applications and only a handful of well-funded startups (such as Instagram or RunKeeper) with big development teams have been able to pull it off. The problem was that the backend systems for native mobile apps are difficult to optimize to Open Graph.
Kinvey’s Middle Point
A startup in Boston is aiming to fix that. Kinvey, a “Backend-as-a-Service” provider for mobile application development, has created a simple way for native developers to connect their apps to Open Graph and allow users to use easily use more “verbs” on their timelines from their smartphones and tablets.
Open Graph functions by pulling in data from Web endpoints by connecting the action (verbs like “run,” “cook,” “listen” etc.) with metadata from the Web app. So, if I am baking cookies, I can hit the “I baked cookies” button on some webpage and Facebook will crawl for the metadata associated with that action and post it to Timeline. This works only because the webpage has metadata, stored on the Web, that Facebook can crawl. Mobile apps do not often have this type of metadata available to be searched, nor any backend system or URL that Facebook can crawl.
Kinvey has a simple solution. It takes the metadata (known as the “object”) from a mobile app and hosts it on its own servers. It then takes that data and creates its own Web endpoints for Facebook to crawl. It is a clever bit of integration. Kinvey is not changing the basic nature of Open Graph nor doing anything extraordinarily technical, rather it is creating a new middle point between a developers’ apps and the Open Graph – with an interface that lets them push or retrieve data. Kinvey sets up the entire system on its own and handles the data flow for the developers.
Good For Everyone?
The benefit for mobile developers is clear: they can extend native apps actions to Facebook’s entire population and make them accessible on Timeline without creating an entirely new structure.
Facebook benefits because it does not have to completely reconfigure Open Graph to serve the large native mobile developer environment. Plus, it gets previously unavailable data from smartphone and tablet users. This could significantly help Facebook spread through the app ecosytem just as it has already done with Web pages.
Users get the benefits of Open Graph on the Web extended to mobile applications.
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Urban Airship made big news in the startup community yesterday with its acquisition of backend location services provider SimpleGeo. Last December we called SimpleGeo the most promising company of 2011 because of the way it provides location data for applications and the approach the company uses to tackle the problem. Urban Airship agrees that SimpleGeo has great potential, hence the acquisition.What does this mean for the backend-as-a-service mobile cloud realm?
A Natural Partner
Urban Airship does not see itself competing against the likes of StackMob, Kinvey or Parse, but it definitely works within that space. One exec called it a “really clever move.” Another thought that this is a sign of consolidation within the backend mobile services realm. Either way, it is a big move for both Urban Airship and SimpleGeo.
SimpleGeo + Urban Airship t-shirts have already been made
Urban Airship was one of the first companies to tie push notifications, rich push (with multimedia elements), in-app purchases and subscriptions together into third-party service applications for developers.
SimpleGeo provides similar backend support, but from a location perspective with a location library and the ability to send push notifications based on where as user is. In terms of how the two companies will mesh together, they both tie to the cloud via Amazon Web Services, are built on top of Cassandra and use programming languages like Java and Python.
The acquisition of SimpleGeo by Urban Airship is a natural step for the two companies after they formed a partnership earlier this year. The way Scott Kveton, CEO of Urban Airship, sees it, his company has a significant opportunity to create a dynamic mobile services ecosystem through these types of partnerships. Urban Airship has already partnered with Nitobi for PhoneGap integration and Appcelerator. Urban Airship has more partnerships on the horizon, some to be announced next week. Urban Airship and Kinvey have also done some research together on how political campaigns do not use use push notifications in an unpublished article called “Political mobile apps have a payphone strategy in a smartphone world.”
Consolidation of the Backend Space
One of the founders of a backend mobile service I spoke with agreed there will be some type of consolidation within the vertical. That could come in several forms. A company like Apple, Google or Microsoft could acquire a company like StackMob, Kinvey or Parse. For instance, Microsoft wants to tie its application development to its cloud service Azure, but could do well by cutting across platforms by acquiring one of the startups working in the space. Or, more companies like Urban Airship buying companies like SimpleGeo.
In the long run, some type of consolidation of the backend services vertical may be necessary. In the short term, probably not. StackMob, Kinvey and Parse are all still in beta periods and have significant room to grow. The explosion of mobile devices and the application ecosystems that support them will provide plenty of opportunity as developers look for ways to provide cloud functionality to apps without building it out themselves. Kinvey published an infographic through GigaOm that shows that most native applications are not yet tied to mobile backend service.
Developers: What do you think of the Urban Airship+SimpleGeo pairing? Also, what types of services are you looking for from the backend-as-a-service mobile platforms? Let us know in the comments.
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The most recent trend in app development has been “backend as a service.” Companies and startups have recognized the need of the average developer for support when it comes to server stacks and storage, data migration middleware managements. These services make possible things like authentication, push notifications, in-app purchases and other services that consumers take for granted.
There are a lot of new back-end services available, from the purist startups (Parse and Kinvey) to those approaching their second round venture rounds like StackMob and established services like appMobi. Which one makes developers lives the easiest? What is the most cost effective? Vote on your favorite in this week’s ReadWriteMobile poll.
In the most recent news, Parse has widened its private beta (we have invites) and Kinvey has raised $2 million in seed funding. Both are currently participating in summer incubator programs as Parse is part of the current batch of startups in Y-Combinator and Kinvey is a member of TechStars summer class of 2011.
The popular way to describe these backend as a service platforms is to call them “the Heroku of mobile.” Heroku is a provider of cloud computing that offers a Ruby platform as a service that makes it easier for developers to work with backend services.
So, what is your favorite? Which has the brightest future? Which is easiest to use? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts in the comments?
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Most mobile developers have a creative side to their application styling. They also have the knowledge of common codes such as Python or Java to be able to turn their imaginations into colorful apps for the world to interact with. Yet, application building is not that simple. There are backend servers, codes and stacks to deal with that the average developer probably only has a rudimentary knowledge of how to navigate. These are technical, not creative, problems. Enter: Parse.
Parse offers native iOS and Android software developer kits (SDKs) that help developers integrate with cloud services. It is in the current Y-Combinator batch and is founded by Tikhon Bernstam and James Yu, who were co-founders at Scribd along with Ilya Sukhar (Ooyala) and Kevin Lacker (Google). Parse is the latest offering in a new trend in the developer ecosystem – backend as a service – that is lowering the bar for mobile application development.
The barrier to entry for developers is lowering with every new announcement of something “as a service” that makes developers’ lives easier. This worries some people in the tech community that see an era coming to mobile applications that we saw in the mid-to-late 1990s when everybody and their second cousins could make a website with easy to use templates. The Web was flooded with low-quality websites and one could argue that it was an inflection point that made the tech bubble possible as well as the advent of mass spam.
That era may not be too far in the future. Platforms as a service are increasing and tools are becoming easier to use. Parse takes it a step further by making server-side functions like authentication, push notifications, database management and other similar activities less difficult to navigate. Developers will still need to know some code necessary to connect data to Parse, but a doctorate in cloud enviroments is not needed.
Parse has raised $1.1 million so far while still in Y-Combinator, which means the service is very young and may not have all the tools for all developers. For instance, right now it only has iOS and Android SDKs. Yet, the Parse team does understand the nature of data freedom. It says that your data being stored within Parse will always remain “your” data and can be taken out of the service at any time. While that seems very thoughtful of the Parse team, there are also legal reasons for this in the case that a client’s data breaks some type of law, it is the client and not Parse that would get in trouble.
The startup is widening its private beta and is offering invite codes to ReadWriteWeb readers. Visit Parse to register and use the code “RWW” to sign up.
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