Friday, 15 November 2013

Flipkart opens up part of its technology code to deliver innovation

Online retailer Flipkart is inviting software coders to build new applications on its technology platforms in a move the company says is designed to create a wave of innovation that may benefit the larger ecommerce industry.

India's largest online retailer is following in the footsteps of Google and Facebook which release significant technology products into the open source world.

Earlier this year, Flipkart opened its payment gateway PayZippy for use by businesses.

Founded by computer science engineers from IIT-Delhi, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, Flipkart has so far been just a consumer of open source technology, where the source code of a software is made available freely to build new applications.

"The next entrepreneur will not have to build a product from scratch and if he builds something innovative and useful, Flipkart might end up consuming it," said Amod Malviya, Flipkart's head of engineering.

One of the first products made available to open source coders is Phantom, released about three months ago on Github, an online project hosting community.

Phantom can automatically queue requests to various servers, create timeouts and in case a particular service is down, it routes the request to a fallback.

"It helps isolate any problem, so the larger population of users is not affected," said Regunath Balasubramanian, principal architect at Flipkart, who previously worked on the government's Unique Identification project Aadhaar.

Globally, open source has proven to be more than just altruism; it makes business sense as well.

Android, the open source operating system released by Google, was used in 80 per cent of all smartphones shipped in the third quarter this year, according to data released this week by International Data Corporation.

The global market for Hadoop, an open source software framework for storage and large data sets, was worth $1.5 billion in 2012 and is estimated to grow to over $20 billion in 2018, according to Transparency Market Research. "Worldwide, open source is completely driven by the private sector," said Kiran Jonnalagadda, founder of Hasgeek, an online community for geeks.

Sharad Sharma, who cofounded technology thinktank iSpirt, is of the view that releasing non-strategic technology makes sense for Flipkart as the open source community will be involved in maintaining products. "Otherwise technology teams will grow unmanageable if they have to create and maintain all the technology they consume," he said.

Flipkart has already built its mobile application programming interface atop Phantom and is also building a platform for sellers.

Last month, the company released HostDB, a tool to help manage data centre inventory, on Github. These moves are already creating a ripple effect. Bangalore-based Scrollback, incubated at Singapore-based seed accelerator Joyful Frog Digital Incubator, released its entire application on open source in April. Founded by IIT-Kharagpur alumni Aravind Ravi Sulekha and Gaurav Srivastava, Scrollback is a micro-forum for communities that can be embedded on any website.