Category Archives: Tools

CityGrid Local, Mobile, Social Stack: Parse

In February I’m spending more time building, what I’ve dubbed the CityGrid Local, Mobile, Social Stack, a list of APIs, platforms and tools that you can use in your local-mobile applications.

Of course CityGrid PlacesOffersReviews andAdvertising are first in that stack, but I want to identify other APIs, tools and platforms that can also assist you in quickly building your mobile app.

As I add items to this stack. I will showcase them one by one here on the blog. The next one on my list is Parse, which offers a pretty impressive data storage, push notifications and user management platform for your mobile backend.

Parse is looking to provide a single platform for your mobile backend, providing a single cloud interface for:

  • Data Storage – Providing native SDKs for iPhone and Android ORM data storage platform, allowing objects to be stored and retrieved as needed.
  • Push Notifications – A standardized push notification platform across iPhone and Android, overcoming the headaches of each individual platforms notification system.
  • User Management – Nobody likes having to rewrite your own user management system, so parse provides one that securely allows you to sign up, login and manage users across multiple devices.

At first glance I thought Parse was just another back-end for iOS or Android mobile applications, but I see they have a robust REST API, that can be used in mobile web apps as well. This means you can access the same users, data storage and take advantage of push notifications in your mobile web, or just the web version of your applications platform.

The REST API opens up the playing field and lets you interact with Parse from anything that can send an HTTP request, some examples they provide are:

  • A mobile website can access Parse data from Javascript.
  • A webserver can show data from Parse on a website.
  • You can upload large amounts of data that will later be consumed in a mobile app.
  • You can download recent data to run your own custom analytics.
  • Applications written in any programming language can interact with data on Parse.
  • You can export all of your data if you no longer want to use Parse.

Native app usage is definitely growing with more smart phone usage, but bridging the worlds between multiple devices as well as on the web is critical. Parse making the decision to provide a REST interface to your mobile back-end is smart.

Parse seems to be truly about making mobile app developers lives easier, with constant improvements coming down the pipes, like syncing, realtime push, and analytics soon — all without having to develop, maintain, and deploy complicated server code.

I’m adding Parse to the CityGrid Local, Mobile, Social Stack and will be weaving more of their services into what we offer here in the CityGrid Developer Center as well as our hackathon tools.

Twitter UI Bootstrap Generator

I wrote about using the Twitter Bootstrap framework for building local applications last week.

When you are building your application, the default set of styles may not be have exactly the fonts, colors and other characteristics you are looking.

To help you in your development, I found the Twitter Bootstrap Generator, that you can use to quickly choose colors, fonts and other styles your looking.

Another time saving tool to help you rapidly build local web applications.

Using Twitter Bootstrap for your Local Web Application

I’m a web application developer. I can efficiently build web applications, but when it comes to the UI, I know what looks good, but I struggle to actually implement a consistent look and feel.

Usually in a weekend I can throw together a pretty complete app, but when I try to make it look good it can take weeks, and often even kills a project before it get going.

This is why I started using Twitter Bootstrap for all my web applications and prototypes. Twitter Bootstrap is a “simple and flexible HTML, CSS, and Javascript for popular user interface components and interactions”.

In the earlier days of Twitter, engineers used almost any library they were familiar with to meet front-end requirements. Inconsistencies among the individual applications made it difficult to scale and maintain them. Bootstrap began as an answer to these challenges and quickly accelerated during Twitter’s first Hackweek. By the end of Hackweek, they had reached a stable version that engineers could use across the company.

With the help and feedback of many engineers, Bootstrap has grown significantly to encompass not only basic styles, but more elegant and durable front-end design patterns. Providing a collection of CSS and HTML conventions, employing the latest browser techniques to deliver typography, forms, buttons, tables, grids, navigation and many of the common elements you need to deliver a sharp looking web application.

I used Twitter Bootstrap to deploy Hyp3rL0cal, my first set of local web app prototypes in PHP, Python and Ruby, built using the CityGrid Places and Advertising API. I’ve rolled up these prototypes, complete with Twitter Bootstrap as Amazon EC2 AMIs, so anyone can quickly deploy a local directory that looks good.

I highly recommend using Twitter Bootstrap in all your projects, it allows you to focus on what you do best, delivering the next generation of local directory or guide web applications.