Facebook engineers reveal how Parse fits into Platform, B2B strategies

Facebook engineers describe how the social network can serve as a "horizontal tier" that connects its global user base with third-party applications.

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MENLO PARK, CALIF. -- The Facebook Platform celebrates its six year anniversary on Friday, and engineers for the world's largest social network offered a behind-the-scenes look at where the infrastructure is going next.

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The update, held at Facebook's Silicon Valley headquarters, also shed light about the company's evolving B2B strategy, which got a boost with the recent acquisition of Parse.

To recall, Facebook bought Parse , a startup with a cloud-based platform of scalable cross-platform services and tools for developers, back in April.

Specifically, Parse came with tools designed for development on iOS and Android devices.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Facebook reps asserted via email at the time that "this is an acquisition – not a talent deal."

"Facebook can become this horizontal tier that brings people to those third-party applications," Purdy remarked.

For reference, the Facebook Platform was built to enable third-party developers to integrate their apps with the Social Graph, according to Doug Purdy, director of product management at the social network.

Looking toward the immediate future through at least 2014, Purdy outlined that Facebook's Platform strategy will be held up by the following four pillars: Identity (social plugins, logins, etc.), Open Graph (Timeline, News Feed, Graph Search), Ads, and App Services.

"Facebook can become this horizontal tier that brings people to those third-party applications," Purdy remarked.

The last pillar, Application Services, is where Parse comes in.

Ilya Sukhar, co-founder and former CEO of Parse, acknowledged that developing for mobile is "really hard" given the sheer amount of devices, mobile operating systems, apps, use cases, and everything else possibly related to the form factor.

Prior to the acquisition, Sukhar explained that his startup's biggest competition came from companies choosing to build apps in-house.

Sukhar asserted that Parse's SDK is designed to make things "dramatically easier" for independent third-party developers and small businesses, backing that up by citing that more than 200 million devices have installed apps built using the Parse SDK.

With Parse onboard, Facebook will be able build up its own developer ecosystem with more tools to dish out to third-party developers (and, by extension, advertisers).

Yet, Sukhar specified that Parse will actually continue to operate independently -- to some extent at least.

For instance, even though Parse already offers the option for integrating the native Facebook Login dialog, Sukhar replied that Parse won't require developers to integrate Facebook services in the future. (For example, developers could still use Twitter for login services instead of Facebook.)

Furthermore, Parse's back-end infrastructure is based on Amazon Web Services. Even though Facebook is building its own datacenters around the world ( most recently Iowa ), Sukhar explained it will be "business as usual," and that there aren't plans to move.

Going back to the original core focus on iOS and Android developers, Sukhar also admitted that "a majority" of the apps built with Parse tools are not built for Facebook.

Purdy followed up by reiterating that with the Parse merger, the key is making apps "cross-platform" for all people.

Therefore, the benefits to App Services, according to the Facebook Platform team, are threefold: Developers should be able to easily build cross-platform apps. Users should be able to interact with contacts on any device, and Facebook plainly gets more cross-platform apps within its ecosystem.

"We believe that applications and application experiences that focus on users are just simply better, and we knew that we couldn't build all of those experiences." admitted Purdy.

To grasp how the Facebook Platform has grown since 2007, Purdy highlighted social gaming, citing that there are approximately 250 million people playing games on Facebook every month.

He added that more than 550 million people have personalized experiences (related to Facebook) on apps and sites each month, whether it be from sharing content or logging in to a website via Facebook Connect.

Speeding up to 2011 when the Open Graph was introduced at F8, Purdy explained that the evolution to this step unleashed new possibilities for third-party developers while enabling users to share the stories they want to share on or from third-party sites.

"We believe that applications and application experiences that focus on users are just simply better, and we knew that we couldn't build all of those experiences." admitted Purdy.

Purdy said that there are now more than one billion stories from apps and sites shared each day.

But over the last year, Facebook leaders ( most notably CEO Mark Zuckerberg ) have been most vocal about the mobile-first movement .

In 2012 alone, Facebook pushed out iOS 6 integration, a native Facebook login dialog, and mobile install ads.

The last of which, Purdy suggested, might present the most value of anything Facebook has released for third-party developers to date.

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