Zuckerberg says Facebook aims to take pain out of app building

CEO makes surprise appearance at Facebook's first Parse developers day

Facebook is seen as a website for connecting people. Now the company also wants to make it easier for outside developers to build their apps and connect them with users, by providing back-end hosting tools.

Facebook Parse Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at the Parse Developer Day in San Francisco.

On Thursday the social network held its first Parse Developer Day, a conference geared toward third-party app developers. Parse is a cloud service company that provides a hosted back-end infrastructure to make it easier for developers to build their mobile apps. Facebook announced its acquisition of Parse in April.

Facebook already provides software tools to let outside developers plug into the social network's data with Facebook Platform. But that service is focused more on the distribution of apps, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a surprise appearance at the conference in San Francisco.

"We want to do more than that," he said. What Facebook is trying to do with Parse, he said, is to give developers new tools to build and grow their apps.

In other words, Facebook wants developers to focus less on things like managing servers, maintaining connections to other services and building push notifications, and instead focus more on the user's front-end experience.

Parse addresses those issues, Zuckerberg said, by eliminating the pain for developers and letting them just focus on building a great app.

During a keynote address, Parse CEO Ilya Sukhar likened the company's goals to applying for a driver's license, but not wanting to stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to fill out all of the paperwork.

"You just want to get out there and drive," he said.

The goal has big implications not just for developers but for Facebook. The social network claims to have more than 1 billion active users, and already lets those people log into certain apps through Facebook, giving the app permission to access their list of friends and other profile information.

But by getting into the business of selling application development tools, Facebook wants to support an even tighter bond between apps and the site.

To provide more ways to simplify the app development process, some new products were unveiled by Parse's Sukhar during Thursday's event, which drew more than 600 attendees.

The two biggest new products are Background Jobs and Parse Analytics, he said. Background Jobs is designed to let developers schedule tasks into their apps, such as messages or notifications, by sending simple code to Parse's servers. Prior to that product's launch, developers could not run arbitrary code on the company's servers, Sukhar said.

Parse Analytics, meanwhile, will let developers monitor various activities within their apps to see what's working and what's not. With the feature, developers can see, for instance, whether their app has more action on Android or iOS, and whether certain demographics are spending more money within the app than others.

Developers could use work-arounds to gather some of this data before, Sukhar said, but now they can get it all in one place, visualized on a dashboard.

Parse also announced Thursday a partnership with the Unity gaming development platform, to make it easier for games developers to build their apps on iOS, Android and the Web using Parse.

Some developers have questions about how Parse's services might continue to change now that the company is owned by Facebook. Andres Le Roux of Alrx.net wondered in an interview at the conference whether there might be tighter synergies between Facebook Platform and Parse in the months to come.

Another looming question is whether Parse will let developers continue to build their apps for Twitter just as easily as they can for Facebook. During a meeting with the media in May following the acquisition, Parse's Sukhar said that Twitter with Parse would not be going away.

More than 100,000 apps have been built using Parse, Sukhar reported Thursday. The company's wide range of clients includes Showtime, eBay, Warner Brothers and Zynga.

Competitors in the cloud hosting space include Amazon's S3 cloud computing storage service, Google's Cloud Platform and Firebase.

But Parse sees its biggest competitor as people who build apps themselves, Sukhar said in May.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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