App Development: New Rules for a New Game, Part 2

Part 1 of this series focused on development in regard to cloud computing and mobile devices.

Social networking is becoming increasingly important as a business tool, with businesses moving toward concepts like Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0.

This requires a new approach to application development, where capabilities for feeds and profiles are incorporated into apps during coding; apps become push, not pull; and the interface becomes touch, not click. These are ideas Salesforce.com chairman and CEO Marc Benioff promoted as he announced the new VMforce platform jointly with VMware in April.

How will that work, exactly? Social networking sites are both highly attractive and highly vulnerable to hackers, and Facebook and Google have both had well-publicized problems with privacy. Will integrating social networking into app development expose enterprises to more security issues?

More importantly, where are enterprises going with social networking? Is VMforce really the expression of one aspect of app development, or is it really at the forefront of a new wave of development, as Benioff proclaimed?

Pieces of a Puzzle

Perhaps Benioff is well ahead of the pack with his prediction about where app development is going. The integration of social networking into app development appears to be stumbling along just now.

VMforce, for example, is really a closed platform, contends Vuk Trifkovic, a senior analyst at Ovum.

“Salesforce.com and VMware have not teamed up to enable application developers to create social-aware applications from Day One; they’ve teamed up to let Force.com run VMware’s Spring framework and call up social capabilities of the recently released Salesforce.com Chatter product,” Trifkovic told TechNewsWorld.

The social element in VMforce is restricted to Salesforce.com’s Force.com platform, which restricts code portability, Trifkovic explained. Further, the platform is associated firmly in Salesforce’s own product rather than being one jointly developed by the two companies.

“I’m not sure I’d describe VMforce as social networking in app development as much as collaboration, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive,” Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

“Maybe it’s better to typify VMforce as a collaborative platform with a social networking framework,” King said. “That is, the platform provides global anytime access to an app development environment and the Spring framework, along with tools, services and resources designed to make life easier for developers.”

The result may have the look and feel of typical social networking sites, but its purpose will be to facilitate app development by diverse, geographically separated development teams, King said.

Groping Toward the Cloud

Perhaps that’s really where app development and social networking will meet.

“Social networks and app development environments may evolve to offer similar and overlapping functionality, but usually each has a different intent and different competencies,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told TechNewsWorld. “Application development environments that reside in the cloud, where the developers work online and store code and artifacts in the cloud, can leverage social networking-type functionality to keep programmers connected with each other.”

Indeed, the cloud figures prominently in the future of app development. Both are areas toward which enterprises are trending.

VMforce and Force.com are both cloud-based app development platforms, for example.

“The vacuum of enterprise software in the cloud, and the addressing of social networking, leaves open opportunities in the cloud for two very big forces,” John Newton, chairman and chief technology officer at Alfresco and a member of the board of directors for the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), told TechNewsWorld.

“One is Google, which has invested in the infrastructure and is investing in social applications for the enterprise,” Newton said. “The other is the open source movement.”

Open source is the preferred platform for Web 2.0 and social networking websites on the Internet, Newton remarked.

“Companies and open source vendors are using tools like Hadoop, Drupal and others to build up these solutions. I would expect to see more entrants in the next year or two.”

AIIM recently created an Enterprise 2.0 community to help members deal with the issue of social networking software. Enterprises are increasingly investing in such software to improve collaboration and knowledge-sharing within their supply and value chains, but “without clear definitions, understanding and management of Enterprise 2.0 and social software, many organizations face significant obstacles to adoption,” AIIM said when announcing the Enterprise 2.0 community.

Is It Safe?

Social networking sites have become hotbeds of activity for scammers and spammers.

Just recently, Facebook was hit by two waves of clickjacking attacks that lured victims into clicking on links purporting to lead to sites their friends found interesting. Clicking on the links forced their profiles to indicate they “like” the page and that reference was published on their profiles and shared with friends.

Other attacks on social networking sites have stolen victims’ identity and personal data.

At the very least, such attacks may choke up an enterprise’s network.

“Security is a critical point, especially with developer teams creating new Java apps and processes,” Pund-IT’s King said. “Any infrastructure is only as safe as individual users make it.”

“Security problems need to be partitioned and ring fenced,” Alfresco’s Newton said. When social networking capabilities are integrated into apps, however, things may become interesting.

“Social networking works because users feel free to speak their minds and can share information and their opinions with a critical mass of people,” Newton pointed out. “Not enough critical mass, and the social experiment collapses. Too much security can kill the critical mass.”

Enterprises have to treat their security risks separately and ensure they don’t kill off collaboration and the swift flow of information, Newton said.

“What you risk is competitive advantage,” Newton warned.

App Development: New Rules for a New Game, Part 3

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