MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook is becoming a mobile app platform — and you’ll be able to use it even if you have no interest in building Facebook apps.
That’s driven partly by Facebook’s recent acquisition of Parse, a company that helps app developers by providing backend services such as database management, sync protocols, data serialization, and other technical issues.
But it also reflects Facebook’s changing view of itself as a platform spanning platforms of all kinds: mobile phones, tablets, the Web, and even Windows 8.
“We live in this world of heterogeneous devices. We’re trying to build a platform where third-party developers can create applications that span across all of those devices so they can really focus on people,” said Doug Purdy, an engineer who works on the Facebook platform, during a press briefing today.
Facebook acquired Parse on April 25 to bring its “mobile backend-as-a-service” (mBaaS, believe it or not) into Facebook’s developer platform.
One of the questions raised at the time was whether Parse would continue operating independently. It’s a mobile development tool, not a Facebook development tool, so some of its customers may be creating iOS or Android apps that don’t link into Facebook at all — and that’s OK, according to Facebook.
“Parse is not going away,” said Ilya Sukhar, Parse’s founder [above]. It is his fourth day working on the Facebook campus, so he acknowledged that he was still learning his way around the company. But he was quite clear on the future of Parse.
For instance, Parse currently supports Twitter for user authentication, and it will continue to support that, Sukhar said. “That’s not going away,” he said.
Additionally, all Parse services currently run on Amazon Web Services, and that’s not changing, either, despite that Facebook owns huge data centers of its own. And the pricing model won’t change: Parse will still offer a free tier, a $200/month tier for more serious users, and an enterprise tier for high-traffic customers.
All this should be quite reassuring to Parse’s current 80,000 developer customers, whose apps run on 200 million different devices, Sukhar said.
Naturally, Facebook hopes that mobile app developers integrate their apps with its platform, and many of them do. According to Purdy, 80 percent of the top-grossing iOS apps integrate with Facebook, and 70 percent of the top-grossing Android apps do, too.
The company is also encouraging developers to utilize Facebook as an app discovery tool. With 800,000 apps in each of the major mobile app stores, just getting noticed is a major challenge for devs. Facebook is building tools to help with that, starting with Facebook ads. Currently, if you click on an ad for an app within the Facebook iOS app, it takes you directly to the Apple App Store — without leaving the Facebook app — so you can install the advertised app.
Facebook has also made some tweaks to other parts of its platform. It’s splitting the “read and write” permissions that apps have to ask users for — so each app now has to get separate permissions from the end-user for reading their Facebook profile and friends list, and for posting to Facebook on their behalf. The change has been well received by end-users, according to Purdy.
And the company will soon enable Facebook apps to show up in Facebook Open Graph search results, something they don’t currently do.
“One of the things Parse does really well, and does it better than anyone in the world, is that it makes it really easy to create an iOS app and then move that to Android, move it to Windows Phone, and so on,” said Mike Vernal, another senior Facebook platform engineer (he was the lead engineer on the Facebook Connect project in 2008).
“We want it to be about people, and not the devices that they’re on.”
Photo: Ilya Sukhar, the founder of Parse, at the Facebook campus. Credit: Dylan Tweney/VentureBeat