In-app sharing and third-party service integration: There's a platform for that
If you're starting 2013 determined to eat better, Farmstand may not be a bad place to start. The iOS app, created by Mostly Brothers, allows consumers to more easily find organic, locally-grown food by locating the nearest farmer's markets. A key feature, however, is the ability to share what you've found, whether it's posting a deal, a photo or other details that that would be helpful to other visitors. In other words, like the best apps, Farmstand is focused on community, and that means connecting with third-party social networking platforms that most other consumers use. This is where it gets tricky, even for experienced developers.
Farmstand is one of the initial apps to test out Singly's service.
"I've worked with Facebook authentication on other sites before, so I know what it takes to do it myself, and it's not a fun thing," said Glenn Sidney, one of the principals at Mostly Brothers who helped create Farmstand. "Historically it's been pretty brittle and your sign-in process can work just fine, and then suddenly it's completely broken and while your entire team goes on red-alert for the next hour working on a fix, it's like, 'Oh, guess what, it's working again!'"
Social media integration is quickly becoming a critical part of the app experience as Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter increase their presence on mobile devices. According to a research study published by Nielsen and NM Incite last month, the use of social media mobile apps grew 63 percent in 2012 compared to the same period the previous year. However, having to manually write the code that will authenticate users via third-party services, sync friend and profile data and share it with those services can be a time-consuming task.
Singly suggests seamless logins for new app users.
In December, San Francisco-based startup Singly released a SDK into open beta that promises to accelerate this process in a matter of hours. The company refers to its services as "app fabric" for developers or, calling to mind Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) entry into cloud computing, "AWS (Amazon Web Services) for user data connectivity."
Jason Cavnar, previously of social reader startup Nsyght, explained that Singly began as an open source initiative called the Locker Project, which archived tweets, photos and other social media activities into a private online space.
"As we just dealt with the complexities of accessing the data, it became obvious that, more than an end user product, what was needed was a service for developers," he said. "We decided to move away from the Locker Project and to the platform."
Sindey said Farmstand, which was among the initial 250 apps to test out the service, first encountered Singly at the Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp, an incubator project that took place earlier this year.
"There were five teams all working to build startups to demo at that conference," he said, adding that getting in-app sharing up and working quickly was a strong motivator. "Consider that for more networks than just Facebook, like Twitter or Instagram or Foursquare, you can imagine all of your time being sucked into keeping up with this stuff."
While he offers huge praise the Singly team's support and responsiveness, Sidney admits that not all developers may need it over the long term. "While they offered an attractive service to save us valuable time, ditching them once things got a bit more stable might still be a reasonable thing in the future," he said. "With investors and more time flexibility and the ability to hire more developers, rolling your own social network connection isn't the craziest thing you might consider."
Singly is aware of this, which is why it hopes to build on in-app sharing and connecting to services by offering DataFabric, an infrastructure that will handle de-duplication of data, querying, filtering and storage.
LoginRadius and others offer similar social sharing features.
"It's hard to have a sense of how many fall into the camp that needs deeper data syncing," said Jeremie Miller, another Singly co-founder who also invented the Jabber/XMPP open source protocols for instant messaging. However, he said the initial need for integration may drive more business from developers. "Almost every application needs the first set of service. At least at a minimum [you want] a friending and sharing functionality. That's what is a minimum just to make an app social."
Singly is not the only one of these services. LoginRadius offers some similar features for websites and ShareKit, which hasn't been updated since 2010, aims at easing third-party integration. The market for in-app sharing and data services may pick up steam in 2013 as developers look for new ways to differentiate themselves. Cavnar points to Yahoo's Flickr – which released an updated iOS app in December with improved social capabilities for Facebook as an example of using enhanced sharing and syncing to breathe new life into an existing product.
"There's been so much talk about people abandoning mobile and engagement," he said. With the right tools for data services, however, "they can spend more time on user engagement and user experience."
And then maybe their users will share the details with their friends online.