Echo launches its SDK, invites developers to build real time tools for ESPN and others

By Michael Carney , written on March 26, 2013

From The News Desk

Online publishers are fighting a technological war in which they are outgunned and undermanned. Their opponent in this war is the plethora of highly engaging, real time social platforms that consume consumers' time and dictate their expectation of a modern Web experience. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr continue to raise the standard which old and new media companies alike must meet to capture and retain the attention of their audience.

Although it’s largely unknown to consumers and developers, Echo has been arming major publishers with real time social tools for nearly five years. Its clients include ABC, AMC Networks, ESPN, NBC News, NASDAQ, Sony, The Washington Post, Universal Music Group, and WWE, in addition to independent software vendors like Chute, Realtidbits, IdeaMelt, StreamSentiment, and DiscussIT.

Having launched what it claims were the first ever Javascript commenting app, the first real time commenting system, the first social login feature, and the first real time Web app ecosystem, Echo’s APIs are now called more than 30 billion times each month, and the company serves more than 1.5 billion monthly pageviews.

Today, Echo is taking the first major step in courting third-party developers to its ecosystem by launching a JavaScript SDK to aid in the development and deployment of apps on its platform, JS SDK 3.0. The development toolset solves a number of key challenges in building real-time apps, while reducing the cost and time required dramatically. Echo’s hope is that developers will use its platform to build the next generation of mobile and desktop Web commenting, forums, news feeds, social TV, media galleries, location services, and publishing platforms.

“It turns out that each one of these apps is interesting and important on its own, but what’s more interesting is how they interoperate and create a seamless experience,” Echo co-founder and chief strategy officer Chris Saad says. “We’re looking at the whole problem. When you’re asking, ‘How do I catch up with and keep up with Facebook, Twitter, and the like?' it takes a whole app marketplace. If you just install one random commenting system, that’s not going to change anything.”

The new SDK includes simplified client side access to server-side APIs, a graphical user interface (GUI) library based on Twitter Bootstrap to ensure consistent look and feel between apps, core user interface (UI) controls enabling common interaction patterns across apps, a component manifest to ensure app interoperability and plugin extensibility, and Echo Loader which simplifies dependency loading to reduce script conflicts and redundancies.

To be clear, both independent Web developers and digital publishers can build this real time social functionality themselves, but the fact is, they shouldn’t have to. Doing so effectively requires scaling up hadoop databases and writing complicated Javascript, which can require millions of dollars and dozens of engineers – resources that could be better allocated elsewhere.

“Wasted time is our main competitor,” Saad says.

For developers, use of the new API also means access to an ecosystem of clients like ESPN which can radically elevate a young business. For publishers, Echo provides a rich app ecosystem that places their consumption experience on par with the best of the social Web.

“Publishers are really interested in answering, ‘How do I reclaim time spent from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest?' And ‘How can Echo help us keep up with the state of the art?’” Saad says. “It’s in their best interest that we have lots of great apps.”

All existing apps in the Echo marketplace will begin transitioning to the new SDK immediately, with Realtidbits Comments being the first to do so with its release of version 3.0 today, featuring a new skin, several new features, and support for the JS SDK 3.0 plugin and app architecture.

As far as attracting new development talent to the ecosystem, Saad seems content to let Echo’s premium enterprise clients do the talking. “We think that if there’s a big marketplace of ‘powered by Echo’ enterprises, there’s a natural pull to want to develop for them. We’ve done a pretty poor job of communicating to developers thus far, but you’ll see more of this going forward.”

Founded in late 2007, Echo has grown to 50 employees across San Francisco, Atlanta, and Russia. The company has raised just $4.8 million to date, with the last round coming in 2008 from Altos Ventures and The Entrepreneurs' Fund III.

“We’re not talking about fundraising at the moment – it’s a very healthy, very real business, which is astounding for this space and this cycle,” Saad says. “There’s real revenue here. We charge actual enterprise class money to solve enterprise class problems. We’re their partner in keeping up with the state of the art.”

There are other real time social APIs in the marketplace, including Firebase which just launched its mobile SDK last week, KickApps, and MassRelevance. And developers in the Echo ecosystem faces their own challengers on a vertical by vertical basis, including notably Livefyre and Disqus in the commenting space. But where Echo excels is in its comprehensive ecosystem of tools.

Echo offers publishers the building blocks required to easily assemble a modern, social site. In the publisher world, they’re already widely known and used by many of the biggest and best. The company’s biggest challenge is to duplicate this level of awareness among developers and to a lesser extent consumers.

As Saad says, “You have probably used Echo many times and had no idea.”