Stevie Graham / TwitterBack in April, Facebook made a small acquisition that few outside app developer circles paid much attention to. It bought Parse, a cloud company that hosts backend services for app developers. The deal was reportedly worth $85 million — peanuts for Facebook.
But Stevie Graham, a "hacker at large," thinks the acquisition gives Facebook a huge advantage in terms of figuring out who the next Instagram or Snapchat is — allowing it to swoop in and acquire it before it becomes worth billions. (Graham is currently working on a payments app called PayWithZap, but he has a longer resume as a software developer and engineer for companies like HSBC and Twilio.)
Parse hosts mobile apps' backend resources, like analytics. So Parse can see which apps are growing like wildfire, and which are dying on the vine.
Here's how Graham sees that playing out:
Another use I can see for Parse data is giving Facebook the jump on fast growing apps they can acquire before anyone else even knows what has happened. Facebook will know the metrics of any app using Parse, so when they see they have the next Instagram on their hands they can swoop in early and get it for a knockdown price before breakfast. If Facebook could acquire the next Instagram for half off by being early to the party, the Parse acquisition will have paid for itself many times over. This is genius, diabolical genius but genius nonetheless.
Apps currently hosted by Parse include Food Network, Hipmunk, iBart, Anypic, and Travel Channel. There are 100,000 apps using Parse, Graham says.
You can get a taste of Parse's analytics here, so you can see how much rich data the Parse cloud is throwing off about app use. If you want a slightly deeper dive, this Parse blog post describes how the service now offers apps' info on the current rate of API requests for their apps. API requests occur when another app or web site wants to link to another app, for instance when Instagram uses Foursquare to figure out the location of where a photo was taken and append it to the Instagram post.
You can see that even a brief glimpse of topline trend data about app activity within Parse would instantly give you guidance as to which apps are heavily used, and which are niche players at best.
Interestingly, Graham's theory suggests that if you want to be acquired by Facebook, you should host your backend on Parse rather than a competing platform.
We asked Facebook for comment, and we'll update this post when we hear back.
Disclosure: The author owns Facebook stock.
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