Flow launches new data exchange technology

Startup has $3M in financing

A startup called Flow Search Corp. recently launched real-time data exchange technology for mobile developers, consumers and enterprises.

Flow executives and partners have described the New York-based company's real-time data exchange platform as a super RSS reader with added capabilities that give users the ability to draw from rich and varied data fields to create "flows" that the creator can share, subject to certain permissions, with other users.

The platform is being offered as a platform-as-a-service for developers at Flow.net and as a dashboard viewer for consumers and enterprises at iFlow.com. Visitors to both sites must sign up and wait for an emailed invitation to participate.

Flow also recently closed a round of financing and has raised $3 million from investors, said co-founder and CEO Eric Alterman in an interview. Alterman, the founder of KickApps and MeshNetworks, founded Flow with Tom Luczak in 2010.

With the Flow software, users will follow data in the form of topic-based streams, or "flows," of information instead of following individuals as they do in social networks, Alterman explained.

Sometime late in the first quarter of 2012, Flow plans to launch Flow Market to give owners of Web-based content the ability to control and monetize data streams, Alterman said. Flows could range from product reviews to proprietary research.

The company has focused on building the plumbing and underlying processes required to create data flows so developers can focus their time and attention on building interesting apps, Alterman said. Potentially, with the Flow Market, an app could be designed to allow a thousand different apps to share real-time data.

Developers can use Flow's technology to build apps that aggregate data from many other apps, Alterman said. The concept is analogous to what a stock exchange does for trading or what a news service such as Bloomberg does when it draws together many sources of information quickly, Alterman explained.

Some game developers might use the technology to help gamers share scores and levels in real time, but Alterman predicted that "many big companies will need us" to help manage internal social networking or help legacy systems talk to one another."

As an example of how the system could be used, he said, "Cancer researchers can share data in real time to certain subscribers on cancer trial information." In another scenario, a developer could build an apartment rental app to be used by a prospective tenant, who would receive a coupon for a free lunch at a restaurant near the apartment building. The potential renter would also be able to see schools in the neighborhood and get information on the area's crime rate.

Users of the Flow platform would be charged based on the amount of data transmitted and the number of requests made to the Flow servers, Alterman said.

Khanan Grauer, CEO of TouchAppMedia.com, said he is using Flow technology to build mobile software for education. He is specifically planning to bring online education tools to the iPad, the iPhone and Android devices.

"We're the front end, with developers that have expertise in design, specifically for the touch interface," Grauer said in an interview. "What Flow brings is the back end that we leverage. For us, as a startup, it's difficult to focus on everything, so for us to build real-time data exchange would cost quite a lot of money."

Grauer said the product his company is building is six months from completion. When it is ready, he said, it will aggregate social networks used in education settings and will give users the ability to filter streams of data. "Students in a specific subject will look at the Internet for information, but there are so many others places, like Twitter, Facebook and Google+, so we want to aggregate this and don't want to have to build the APIs to get there. Flow is one source. It's easier for us to use them."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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