Outsource your features!

A new trend is rising: applications which are not designed to fulfill some user’s needs but, rather, to provide some service to other web apps.

Until some time ago, if you were to design your own web app, you had to write the same code, with little to none variations, to deal with pretty common issues (i.e. login, user profiles, messaging and so on) every time. You had no choice but to reinvent the wheel each time. Over and over.

Now you have one more possibility: delegate your recurring, non-core (albeit relevant) functionalities to third party web applications, which are built to integrate easily with your own one.

This leaves you with a lot more time to focus on your core features, maximizing your effort. Think of it as code reuse, for web apps. ūüėČ

I’m writing this post a few hours after adding support for user avatar images on Novlet, and I’m still surprised about how painless the process turned out to¬†be.

Although I consider avatars a great addition to most account-enabled applications, we chose not to support them at the beginning because we considered them not to be that relevant for a web app centered upon creative writing. At least, not relevant enough with respect to the effort they required.

So, what made me change my mind?

The answer is, in just one word, Gravatar.

In short, Gravatar allows users to associate email addresses with avatar images, and allows application developers to access that images using the email address users registered with. Users have to set up their images just once, and any gravatar-enabled application will transparently use them.

Stop. Gravatar does¬†just this. But it does it well: it took me a ridiculously small number of lines of code to set everything up, and it works like charm. (You should see the new avatars on¬†Novlet.com¬†when we finish polishing the details. ūüėõ )

Another example:¬†BitLet’s feedback forum.

Originally, we used to gather feedback and suggestions from our users through email or via the blog. But the forum we created with UserVoice allows us to collect suggestions and manage them in an orderly and efficent way, and it took us just a few clicks to set it up.

Now you should understand why¬†Bitlet’s blog is created with Blogger. And that’s why we plan to¬†leverage Google Account Authentication¬†and, eventually, all¬†OpenID¬†providers¬†for our upcoming Secret Project‚ĄĘ.

It’s a trade which benefits both users and developers: why not to take advantage from that?

In¬†one¬†of my previous posts I wrote about the potential of Facebook as an application platform. But with a¬†family of interoperable and pluggable application services (or service applications ūüėõ ) which can be used as building blocks for our web apps, the Internet itself can become an even more powerful, open, platform, pushing the¬†concept of mashup to a new frontier.

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