When Facebook acquired Parse last month, it was unclear what good could come of the deal for Facebook. On Thursday, Facebook executives didn’t share detailed new plans for its developer platform or Parse per se, but they did lay out broadly how the social networking giant can benefit.
Mike Vernal, Facebook’s director of engineering, said the integration of Parse technology could boost ad sales by making development of cross-platform mobile apps easier to build and run.
If a startup builds an iOS app with a way to connect into Facebook, great, but its reach is limited to the number of people with iOS devices. Then the developers have to start over to build a version of the app for Android and Windows Phone operating systems.
That’s where Parse comes in. As a provider of a Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) with software-development kits for multiple operating systems, Parse lets developers quickly build out applications without having to worry about managing servers. When a startup expands its offering from just iOS to Windows and Phone and Android apps and drops them in app stores, promotion becomes important. Facebook can help with that, by getting ads in front of users. The ads expose the applications to the startup’s app, excite users and — here’s the important part — get more ad revenue.
Aside from being an ad revenue driver, Parse makes sense from a content perspective. Not every Facebook user updates his or her lists of favorite things and other fields, so enabling fresher content from more external sources is desirable; it could boost engagement. Facebook recently rolled out to all users the ability to be selective about what content third-party applications can push back to Facebook, and now users can confidently approve of this sharing of stories into the news feed and timelines through more and more apps that developers come up with.
Down the line, Facebook also wants to make this data more accessible through its newish Graph Search tool, Vernal said. That move would scratch another item off Facebook’s long Graph Search to-do list.
As for Parse, it will keep running the way it has been, Sukhar said, whether developers want to use Facebook as a means of promotion or not.
One unanswered question is what will happen to all the apps developers run on Parse. “It’s business as usual, so we’re actually staying on Amazon Web Services,” said Ilya Sukhar, a co-founder of Parse (pictured). But Facebook has a boatload of custom-built infrastructure. Couldn’t it just move Parse-backed apps to Facebook data centers, effectively turning Facebook into a quasi-cloud service provider? Apps will keep running on AWS “right now,” said Facebook’s director of product management, Doug Purdy. But the key words are “right now.”
Purdy made it clear that Facebook wants to just enable third-party developers to build and run apps that people can enjoy regardless of the device they choose. It turns out that’s in Facebook’s best interest, too.