Google Gears streamlines messaging at MySpace

Plug-in easy to administer in a controlled IT environment

A few weeks after going live with its Google Gears application, social networking portal is recommending the technology to the wider enterprise.

Speaking at Google Developer Day 2008 in Sydney this week, Australia engineering manager Daniel Reyes said Gears really shines in bringing a better user experience to Web applications.

"We only had one developer working on the server-side code and another on the client and it only took six weeks to develop the messaging application," Reyes said.

With many subscribers having over 5000 messages in their inbox, the development team wanted to improve the messaging interface by making it more like a rich-client, but still run in the browser.

Why Gears? Reyes said because it's open source and "heaven forbid" if Google stopped supporting it, "which is highly unlikely", MySpace can maintain it. And for security reasons, as the MySpace developers can inspect the code.

Reyes said as the only requirement to run Gears is a Firefox extension, it is ideal for enterprises which have more control over client machines than a public Internet service like MySpace.

"It's only one client application which is easily updated," he said. "It's constantly being improved and at the end of the day it's just awesome!"

With thousands of users having already installed the extension, Reyes' team is now looking to use Gears in other areas at MySpace.

"The feature has been live a few weeks now and there was previously no real search feature," he said. "Because of our scale, with many mail databases of a large size, it was so hard to do, but it's much easier with gears."

MySpace not only deals with large volumes of messages, but during peak times it must deliver as many as 20,000 messages per second.

"It's searching as I type and that's a strong feature for users," Reyes said. "It's a local client and it's fast. Users can now sort by date, status, and by subject line. This is something we couldn't do otherwise and it was easy to do as the development work was about six weeks for back-end and client."

When is Gears a good choice? Reyes has three recommendations: when the user base is likely to have an existing browser plug-in installed; when you have IT control over desktops; and when the added functionality is compelling enough to want it.

MySpace's messaging architecture is quite unique with its databases partitioned per 1 million users, with each ranging from 200GB to many terabytes. There is a shared database to store friend relationships.

"Gears really revolutionizes what we can do on the Web today," Reyes said. "You can leverage HTML 5 today and improve what you can do with a Web client."

When building a Gears application, Reyes also recommends considering: multiple machines per Web user are possible; the shared operating system login scenario; using workerpools to offload expensive processing.

"And get excited at the possibilities!" Reyes said.

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