A new kind of social platform

There’s a reason our blog bears those two words, “Empowering People”. Qbix was founded on the notion that great platforms can power great tools, and great tools can empower people to get more done and greatly improve their lives.

Today I want to share with you a glimpse of the upcoming Q Platform which our team has been working on for the last two years, in stealth mode. Even as we grew our consumer apps to over 1 million downloads (1.3M as of this writing), we were quietly working on a platform for group activities, that we would unroll to our entire user base. We built it for ourselves, but we are eventually planning to release it to the entire web developer community. I’ll get into what it does, but first a few words about why this is the right time for such a platform.

What’s out there today

Lately, more and more entrepreneurs and developers have begun to feel the need for alternatives to the Facebook platform in order to get real social growth and engagement for their apps. Investors are starting to realize too, that apps built on a platform that may be pulled out from under you tomorrow are very risky. I certainly learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago. I started building facebook apps back when the Platform first came out, in 2007. Things changed a lot since then.

Twitter, is a famous example, too, of cannibalizing its third party ecosystem as it grew. It went from bad (in 2010) to worse (in 2012).

The biggest social networks of today started in the age of desktop computers, whereas most people have moved to mobile today. Their mentality of sharing and ad views is behind the times and delivers smaller margins all the time, increasing the temptation to “sell out” their users and expose them to more advertising. Our vision is very different.

Social networks are very useful. They should let good applications spread through social channels that are responsibly managed, whether those applications are third-party or not. But that’s not happening now.

A new approach is needed.

The Q Platform

Okay, so what should a modern social platform have that would create better opportunities for developers and users? At the core, it should have a philosophy:

empower people — both app developers and users — by giving them control over their own data, and tools that match what they are actually looking to do.

That’s all well and nice, what about specifics? Well, I’m glad you asked, because we’ve had a lot to do over the last two years. Once you finish reading the list below, you’ll wonder why a platform like this isn’t around yet. We were wondering the same thing.

  • Write once, deploy everywhere – Apps built on the Q platform can work on desktop computers, tablets and mobile smartphones. HTML5 makes it possible, with help from great tools like PhoneGap
  • Universal user signup – Out of the box, your users can sign up using an email address, mobile number, or connect with facebook at any time. We recommend mobile numbers because it’s harder to get a lot of accounts and spam the system.
  • The address book is the new friend list – Instead of those 1038 fake “friends” on facebook, the people in your address book actually pick up the phone when you call. These are the connections we help people utilize, and give them tools to effectively manage them.
  • Group activities – We consider ourselves a Group Activity Platform, because we focus on facilitating actual collaboration between people. What the activity consists of depends on the particular app. The Q platform will enable many existing apps to become collaborative apps, by giving them all these social features out of the box.
  • Real time collaboration – Our platform is based around streams that people publish. We use Node.js and socket.io to push real time changes to everyone who’s online participating in the stream.
  • Offline notifications – When you walk away from your computer, and aren’t looking at the stream in real time, you can have notifications delivered to your email or smartphone.
  • Eliminate SPAM – The Q platform gives users full control over what streams they want to subscribe to receive notifications from. People can even set up specific filters and rules deliver some alerts to them on their mobile device — for example if it’s from their family. The platform learns about their usage and can suggest intelligent defaults for them that they can override as needed, minimizing work but retaining full control.
  • Privacy back in your hands – We give you complete control over who sees what you publish. On facebook, you can be tagged in a photo or invited to a group without your consent. On the Q platform, you’re invited to a stream and only when you actually show up do you accept or decline. We go much further, however. We have a full and robust roles and permissions system, where any individual or group can show different things to different types of contacts in their address book. Individuals have friends & family, while groups can have managers & admins. The platform can be used for teams and enterprise applications as well. You will find our architects waxing poetic about the group vs the individual, and what design will best empower people to get things done.
  • One-step invitations – If you want your apps to go viral, you want the least amount of friction for new people to sign up. Our platform allows people to invite their contacts to any group activity, and each invite has a special link, so as soon as you click it, your email or mobile number is verified. We also give you infinite sessions so you don’t have to set up a passphrase unless you try to log on from another computer. In fact, you can try out the app without downloading anything, and if you like it, you can get the native app, and continue using it without needing a password. New users can get started with minimal commitment and maximal security.
  • Real names – Speaking of privacy, what about the heavy handed real name policies from Facebook and Google? On the Q platform, a user’s first and last name are streams like anything else, which they can choose to display to some and not others. If someone can’t see your first or last name, then your username is displayed. Thus, a blog which incorporates the platform can be personalized to different degrees for different people.
  • Private and Instant Personalization – Many people thought this wasn’t possible. In the past, facebook simply shared your data with some “trusted partners” in order to “instantly” personalize your experience. We have solved this problem, and this was one solution that was non-trivial enough to patent. Thus, websites using the Q platform can display highly personalized information to visitors while being completely unaware of the information themselves, and even unable to track the user between sites.
  • Scalable out of the box – Suppose your app grows quickly to millions of users. The platform has you covered. Being passionate about the subject, we built a decentralized architecture that can be distributed among many machines around the world. And for local data centers, we built a sharding library that can split a hot shard into 2 or more anytime while your app stays online. Next up is automating this with Amazon Web Services APIs and monitoring.

We have built all this and more. Imagine a platform where you can access the apps from any (web enabled) device, try them out before registering for an account, and easily invite your friends through your phone’s address book. A platform where groups and individuals can control all the data, contacts, roles, privacy for stuff they publish, and easily manage subscriptions for stuff they consume. Where you can tweak them anytime but you usually don’t want to, because they are set just right. We’ve solved the technical architecture. Now it’s just a matter of building out the last 10%, and carefully iterating.

You’ll be hearing a lot more about our platform as we begin rolling it out to our own userbase. Until then – if you’d like to get involved, contact us! We are looking for great developers, designers, documentation writers, evangelists, and PR professionals. Because until now we’ve been doing it mainly on our own.

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