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The Mobile First Mile Out of the Walled Garden

I’ve been thinking lately about media sharing from mobile devices. Maybe you’ve got a bunch of photos, or audiobook files, or whatever. Maybe they start on your mobile device because that’s where they were created, or maybe you bought them and downloaded them.

And maybe you have some processing and final destination in mind for those files. Maybe your images need to be watermarked before they are made public. Maybe your audiobook files ought to be retagged and converted to a more modern format than their source MP3.

With modern cloud computing, it’s pretty trivial to set up those latter processing and storage parts. Maybe you set up Imgix to add watermarks. Maybe you write a really simple Lambda with ffmpeg to transcode to M4B.

But the big problem is the first mile: your mobile device is not cloud-addressable. There’s no URL scheme for it, and for good reason.

So how do you get past that? Writing mobile apps is easier than it’s ever been. But if you look at the state of data transfer apps, we’ve actually moved away from the idea we had in the early days of CuteFTP and Transfer and all the other apps that did one thing: move these files from this random place to that other random place. Instead, data apps today want to take your files and put them in one place: the walled garden associated with the app.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Google Photos, etc, etc, etc. All make it trivial to get files off your devices, but only into their one destination. And sure, that’s their business model. You can’t really blame them.

But what if you could cheat?

Discord, Slack, and other chat apps give us the three parts we need: native mobile apps with file upload capabilities, cloud-addressable file storage, and event-driven APIs for building bot hooks. String those together and you have a bot that watches for file uploads, copies the files into some data processing pipeline, sends you the URL for their final destination, and helps you delete the source from the transient chat app cloud storage.

And somehow, that’s actually easier to write today than trying to solve that mobile first mile.

Chat apps have become a viable first stage in modern content management. That seems … both bizarre and slightly fitting, given our Usenet/IRC history.

By Rick Osborne

I am a web geek who has been doing this sort of thing entirely too long. I rant, I muse, I whine. That is, I am not at all atypical for my breed.