File transfer is coming to Facebook early next week in the form of a new app called Pipe.
The app is set to go into beta on Monday after an official unveiling at the London Web Summit.
Yes, it’s already possible to transfer files on Facebook as message attachments, but that method doesn’t work for large slabs of data and, frankly, most people don’t realise it’s there. Pipe uses some rather clever wrangling of Adobe technology to let users of the social network send each other files of up to 1GB in size, using not much more than drag-and-drop.
The people behind Pipe have big plans for their tool, but those ambitions are contingent on Facebook being a successful first platform.
“We’re starting on Facebook because it gives us viral reach,” CEO Simon Hossell told me. When the user wants to send a file to a friend, the friend gets a Facebook chat message with a link to the app and an explainer video; they install the app to get the file… and so it spreads.
A native iOS version of Pipe is waiting in the wings, currently in alpha stage, and the plan is to port that over to Android soon after.
What is it for? Hossell recoils at the mention of the word “file-sharing” for two reasons. He reckons the term has negative connotations of copyright infringement, an exercise which people are unlikely to carry out when it’s attached to their personal Facebook profiles. But file-sharing also implies one-to-many transmission, and Pipe is purely one-to-one, peer-to-peer.
None of the data sent in the file transfer goes through Facebook’s servers, or Pipe’s servers for that matter. The app uses Adobe’s Real Time Media Protocol Flow (RTMFP) communication protocol, which was designed to let Flash or AIR apps talk to each other, to load the file into the recipient’s cache – the emptier the cache, the bigger the file that can be transferred.
RTMFP isn’t technically supposed to be used for file transfer, according to Adobe’s own documentation, but that’s what Pipe’s using it for anyway.
Pipe’s Berlin-based team team has a fair amount of pedigree. Hossell was for many years European sales director for Gracenote, the service that catalogues ripped files for iTunes and others.
And product chief Marco Rydmann and operating head Philip Eggersglüss were the guys behind Songbeat, an online music search-and-download business that achieved some success before attracting the fatal attention of Warner. That piece of tech ended up in the music player of Simfy, the German Spotify rival.
Although Facebook is apparently just the staging point for Pipe’s dreams, it’s worth noting that at the end of February, the social network itself bought a San Francisco-based startup called Caffeinated Mind, which dealt in — you guessed it — in-browser file transfer.
“We’ll be developing internal tools to improve the inner workings of the company and product, applying our technical and product expertise to their rapidly growing service,” the Caffeinated Mind team said at the time, leaving it less than clear as to whether the acquisition was a talent or tech grab.
So Pipe had better move fast and be ready to jump to other platforms if and when Facebook makes its own large-file-transfer play.