Web Components For Mobile Applications

I should probably start with some kind of disclaimer that I am a Ning employee. However, this stuff that I’m about to talk about is work I’m doing in my free time. It does not represent the position of Ning or any of the other Ning employees, and whatever else disclaimers like this are supposed to say. This is all completely mine. Mine I tell you, MINE!!! There are a bunch of ways that Ning could kick ass, but in which it does not yet. I could try to convince everyone of my grand vision, which I’m not very good at. Or I could just make things and see what happens. Which I’m better at, and which keeps me from having to amuse myself in other ways. I don’t think any of us want to see that happen again.

I was fooling around this weekend with a Ning app that accepts posts from Lifeblog. Why was I doing that? Cause now that there’s a Ning app that accepts Lifeblog posts we’re going to take over the world? No, not quite. Even I’m not that naive. And you should hear some of the crackpot stuff I believe in.

The first reason was that I wanted to make sure that there weren’t any unforeseen technical problems with putting something of the sort together. Putting in support for an application that wasn’t meant to be used with Ning I think proves that the platform is pretty generic. Generating web pages usable from mobile devices isn’t there, but that’s true in lots of other places too so I’m not going to spend too much time moaning about it.

So why care? The client app isn’t new, posting the stuff to the web obviously isn’t new (it was a feature in Lifeblog to start with after all), the server side app isn’t inventive at all. The only real difference is the simplicity with which a “new app” can be setup. True that by default my sample app is pretty crappy. But take a step back and check out what we got:

  • Download an app for free, like Lifeblog. Or even better start with some open source – say a simple photo upload midlet or a blog posting app for Palm devices (also free). Or if you’re that kind of person, pick from among the many network based examples for an open platform like Python for the Series60 (wow, that’s really free).
  • Sign up for a Ning account and clone an application that works with the bit of software you’ve got on your phone (free). There’s the Lifeblog endpoint I threw together this weekend. But it wouldn’t take much effort to throw together others. Say something that exposes the Blogger API and accepts posts from any of the tools that upload in that format. Or a script that accepts samples from one of the Python GPS samples and generates a map based on that.
  • And the environment is pretty malleable. Don’t like the way that the application on the server side works out? Hopefully by now I’ve driven home the point that you don’t have to live with it. Get in there and hack that shit up. And of course your changes are resharable too.

First of all it’s a relatively simple and easy to setup environment that closes the loop between mobile and web. Not an ending point mind you, but not too shabby of a starting point. We can move stuff from a handset out to the web, and with an extremely low amount of effort compared to most of the existing methods for fooling around with mobile to web interaction. A clone and choose an application name and you have a working service endpoint.

My plan is to fool around with a couple more samples, and work on the mobile client side some over the short term. Over the longer term I would love to figure out how to make the mobile client side more generic, get the mobile side interacting with more and more of the apps, figure out the user side (assume I have a great app with a mobile component to it, how do end users interact with it), inbound and outbound messaging, and of course the whole general web issue. I posted about it cause I’m betting there are a bunch of people out there who have app ideas that would only really work on mobile, and for which a service like Ning opens up the door.

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4 Responses to Web Components For Mobile Applications

  1. Hi Mike,

    Have you looked at 411Sync ? 411Sync has an SMS API to make content mobile and accessible from any handset using SMS.

    For example, I just picked up a popular app from Ning – http://restaurants.ning.com/ and mobilized it using 411Sync API.

    I made an SMS query “ningfood” to return back top restaurants from this app. Send “ningfood” to sms@411sync.com and you will get the list back. You can check out this SMS service at http://www.411sync.com/cgi-bin/biz_login.cgi#anchor14. Worked from email, cingular and verizon phone.

    I was able to code up this app in less than 5 minutes. Of course, one can write more complex apps as well.

  2. Pingback: Lifeblog

  3. JacketGirl says:

    That is cool. I was wondering if you also figured out how to do Single sign-on with Ning. Let’s say I have a mobile app and I want to access Ning through my app with SSO instead of through Ning to access my app.

    My issue is that Ning at the end of the day owns my users and if I created a base of users I would like to keep it.

  4. miker says:

    You can export all the info that Ning has and move it somewhere else if you want to. I’ve never really groked this “Ning owns all the info about people in your network” objection that floats around. Here’s the docs:


    Not really sure what you mean by the single sign-on, and I’m not sure I would have an answer if I did.

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