Firebase Aims To Reinvent Real-Time App Infrastructure, And It Already Has 4,000 Sign-Ups

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Firebase is one of those startups with an almost crazily big vision — it wants to simplify the development of powerful, real-time apps, to the point where, as co-founder James Tamplin put it, it’s “jettisoning the whole notion of a server even existing.”

The company, which was part of the summer 2011 class at Y Combinator, unveiled its service last week. In the first 24 hours, it saw a big wave of interest from developers. Tamplin says 35,000 unique visitors came to the site, and 16,000 of them tried out the Firebase tutorial. There are now 4,000 developers who have signed up for early access and are waiting for beta invites.

Firebase is actually a pivot from the company’s first product Envolve, a platform for adding real-time chat to any website. Tamplin says that as last summer’s YC Demo Day approached, the team began to realize that even though Envolve was doing well, it wasn’t going to be “a massive business.” In fact, they found that they were almost turning into a consulting company, because every customer wanted Envolve to build a customized set of knobs and widgets on top of the chat service.

More importantly, Tamplin says he saw a bigger opportunity in “taking all of our expertise in building big, real-time systems” and creating real-time app infrastructure that any developer could tap into. So the team put Envolve “on auto-pilot” and directed all of its energy into building Firebase.

Tamplin announced the results of that work at a party last week, where he kicked things off by outlining the big vision:

Firebase is a scalable real-time backend. So what does that mean? That means that you can build apps really, really fast without worrying about servers or writing server code. So Firebase takes the process of building an app, which right its long, and it’s hard, and it’s painful, and we make it fast and easy.

He went on to suggest that with Firebase, developers only need to worry about the design and front-end coding — they can access all of their Firebase data using JavaScript, so they can stop thinking about the backend. To show off the speed and ease-of-use, the Firebase team built a real-time drawing app while on-stage (the effect was muted slightly by the sluggish office Internet). It also trotted out a lineup of developers who had already built apps in Firebase, many of them saying that the combined effort of learning the technology and coding an app took hours or, in at least one case, minutes.

And while Firebase is currently built for browser-based apps, Tamplin says it has also partnered with a yet-to-be-announced company who can package those websites for mobile app stores.

There are still some big additions that the Firebase team needs to make, like, say, an actual payment structure, as well and data security. (Firebase is testing its security features with a few early developers, Tamplin says.) But you can actually write some code with Firebase on the company website, sign up for the beta, and if you want to see an app already built with the technology, you can check out The Reel Box (a service for finding nearby showtimes) and MMO Asteroids (a multiplayer version of the classic Asteroids game.)

Oh, and here’s a video of Tamplin’s speech/sales pitch last week.