If you’re a web developer you’re undoubtedly familiar with Amazon Web Services, the suite of products that allows developers to build and scale online services with a minimal amount of infrastructure costs. Today, commenting engine Echo is launching something that’s akin to an ‘AWS for Real-time’: Echo Stream Server.
The service has actually been in beta for the last seven months on major partner sites, including Sports Illustrated’s ‘Just Askin‘, some NBC show portals, and Greyson Chance’s overhauled homepage. So what exactly does it do?
At a high level, Echo is trying to give media companies and startups technology similar to the stuff that makes Facebook comments, Twitter search, and other real-time features tick. It’s a pre-emptive response, at least in part, to Facebook’s rumored overhauled comments engine. But unlike what Facebook will likely announce, Echo’s Stream Server lets publishers build their own white-labeled widgets, and they can tie in a variety of social services like Twitter. As with AWS, pricing for the service will be based on usage (more queries cost more).
At first glance, most of the existing products made on Stream Server look pretty familiar: the SI Just Askin widget lets sports fans contribute their own interview questions and vote on those submitted by their peers. Greyson Chance’s portal aggregates all of his tweets, Facebook messages, and the other content he publishes on the web and displays it in a single feed that his fans can interact with, too — it’s a lot like FriendFeed.
The key here, though, is customizability. Echo’s Chris Saad and Khris Loux walked me through the product, explaining that many of the current apps built so far using Stream Server are indeed widgets, but that the service can be extended well beyond that.
First, they outlined how, in just two days, USA Network had used Stream Server to build out an interactive portal that let fans talk about a show in real-time. USA still had to lay the groundwork for the user interface, but when it came time to query for new tweets and Facebook messages, they just had to insert one line of Echo’s new query language.
Echo says that publishers retain full control over their data, and they obviously get to make their widgets look however they want. As another example, they described a project from Greyson Chance where he invited his fans to submit various Twitpic images, which were then moderated and displayed in a gallery that updated in near-realtime (after moderation). This wouldn’t have been trivial to build from the ground-up, but Saad and Loux say that it was much easier with Stream Server.
Beyond widgets, Saad and Loux have more ambitious hopes for the product: they say the big question is which startups will rely on Stream Server for their real-time components, they way they currently rely on AWS for cloud storage and processing.
As with any developer-facing service, it’s tricky to gauge what the response will be. We have gotten to a point where consumers do expect slick features like the ones they’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook (Embedly just launched a service that lets startups reproduce Facebook’s Link-sharing widget) so it isn’t hard to imagine startups looking to outsource some of the leg-work when it comes to real-time.
In the mean time, it looks like this is already getting some strong adoption from publishers, who may favor this over Facebook comments because of its flexibility.