Yahoo Challenges Apple with a Cocktail of Mobile Publishing Tools

1/26/12Follow @wroush

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neutral environment, rather than the operating system’s native browser, giving developers the ability to see and control things like memory allocation. “We use that mostly for application performance and instrumentation,” Fernandez-Ruiz says. “It allows us to optimize our own code. It can tell developers that if code is very slow, for example, you might want to consider shifting [a mojit] to the server side.”

Chromeless Web Runtime is a joint project between Yahoo and two other companies that Fernandez-Ruiz says he can’t yet name. For political reasons, it won’t be open-sourced right away. “In the long run, it is not a technology that we want to be closed,” he says. “We are discussing a number of options for working with others to make it open source.”

Manhattan

The last ingredient in Cocktails will probably never be open-sourced, but it will be available to publishers who want to partner with Yahoo. It’s a private cloud service called Manhattan.

At its core, Manhattan is simply Node.js, a free server-side platform developed by San Francisco-based cloud technology provider Joyent for managing distributed applications. But on top of that, Yahoo has added functions like fault isolation, security, user ID and login systems, and access to C.O.R.E. “You could use Mojito without Manhattan,” Fernandez-Ruiz says. “You could just run your own Node.js on Amazon EC2. But you will be pretty much on your own. We have optimized [Manhattan] to run mojits and give you access to all of these Yahoo APIs: the user ID, the recommendation, the whole Knowledge as a Service stack.”

So here’s the big picture: A publisher like Forbes wants to create an interactive iPad or iPhone version of its publication. It hires some Web developers to write JavaScript mojits to handle the app’s main user-interface elements. Much of the content gets pulled straight from the publication’s existing HTML or XML repositories, and is displayed inside Chromeless Web Runtime. To track registration and subscriptions, the publisher uses its own account database, or uses Manhattan to tap Yahoo’s account system, so users can log into the app using their Yahoo usernames and passwords and also get content recommendations based on Yahoo’s own vast database of customer-behavior information. When the developers are finished, they wrap everything up inside a bit of native iOS code and they submit the app to the iTunes App Store.

Then when Forbes wants to come out with an Android version of the app, the same developers simply repurpose the existing mojits, putting them inside a Java wrapper instead. (Fernandez-Ruiz says an Android version of Livestand, demonstrating how Cocktails works on the Google operating system, is coming soon.) In essence, each new Cocktails app would be a standalone, publisher-branded version of Livestand—but simpler, since there won’t be a need to navigate between publications.

Once you know the whole story behind Livestand, the app itself becomes a little easier to parse. In a review of the main social news reader apps, published before my interview with Fernandez-Ruiz, I wrote that Livestand “gets the award for the most agonizing distance between technical virtuosity and actual usability.” In retrospect, that was a little harsh. My main complaints about the app relate to its somewhat confusing navigation scheme and to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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