Facebook’s Updated iPhone App Aids Internet of Things

Buried in the details of last week’s update to Facebook’s now-native iOS app was a small bit of technology that could have potentially big impact on the future of the Internet of Things.

The technology is called Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), an IBM-developed protocol for real-time messaging over networks with low power and bandwidth. MQTT is now under the hood within Facebook’s iOS app’s messaging features, part of Facebook’s efforts to pull in the features from its native Messenger app.

“We use MQTT to update notifications, messages, and bookmarks. At application startup, we walk the dependency graph and ensure that our MQTT service has started before we start listening for new notifications. Even as we add new features, our modular system ensures that our application setup happens in the right place, at the right time,” wrote Facebook engineer Jonathan Dann on the company’s engineering blog last week.

Short- And Long-Term Effects

For Facebook app end-users, the immediate effect of using the push-driven protocol for the updated app won’t immediately be apparent, but it portends some potentially big features down the line.

In the short-term, however, MMQT is going to get a big boost in adoption cred from Facebook’s use. Messaging in the Internet of Things sector is still gelling around one standard implementation, as device manufacturers figure out how to get sensors and other micro-devices to best communicate with the Internet and from there the rest of the world. MQTT is one such protocol and tent.io is another.

Both MQTT and tent.io have very strong social media components, which may at first seem incongruous with the Internet of Things. But the messaging protocol that can handle social media messaging (as MQTT will do on the new version of Facebook’s iOS app) and messaging from hardware will be seen as a much more universal protocol. And in the world of standardization, that perception may be enough to win the gold.

MQTT vs. tent.io

Redmonk analyst James Governor sees Facebook’s commitment as a big win for MQTT.

“IBM has been seeking pervasive status for its message queue technology since I joined the industry in 1995. It looks like it just finally got there. I don’t want to confuse a protocol with an implementation but in a week when Dave Winer questioned the status of tent.io and app.net began its play for real time stream utility status I can’t help noting that IBM and MQTT.org are in the game,” Governor blogged.

Governor’s reference to Winer’s thoughts on the tent.io protocol is significant, since Winer is the inventor of the RSS newsfeed protocol.

“RSS won not because of its great design, but because there was a significant amount of valuable content flowing through it. Formats and protocols by themselves are meaningless. That’s what I say about specs. Show me content I can get at through the protocol, and I’ll say something,” Winer said on his own blog.

Now Endorsed by Facebook

For Governor, Facebook’s investment in MMQT sets the content bar very high.

“Whether or not you like Facebook, there is now going to be a metric crapload of content flowing across MQTT. It just got anointed by Facebook,” Governor said.

MMQT’s anointment won’t mean much to average users - yet. But if the Internet of Things and social media development communities can rally around one protocol, it will be one big step towards the goal of getting people and objects communicating with each other more efficiently 

All thanks to Facebook.