Yes, it’s already possible to transfer files on Facebook as message attachments, but that method doesn’t work for large slabs of data and, frankly, most people don’t realise it’s there. Pipe uses some rather clever wrangling of Adobe technology to let users of the social network send each other files of up to 1GB in size, using not much more than drag-and-drop.
The people behind Pipe have big plans for their tool, but those ambitions are contingent on Facebook being a successful first platform.
“We’re starting on Facebook because it gives us viral reach,” CEO Simon Hossell told me. When the user wants to send a file to a friend, the friend gets a Facebook chat message with a link to the app and an explainer video; they install the app to get the file… and so it spreads.
What is it for? Hossell recoils at the mention of the word “file-sharing” for two reasons. He reckons the term has negative connotations of copyright infringement, an exercise which people are unlikely to carry out when it’s attached to their personal Facebook profiles. But file-sharing also implies one-to-many transmission, and Pipe is purely one-to-one, peer-to-peer.
None of the data sent in the file transfer goes through Facebook’s servers, or Pipe’s servers for that matter. The app uses Adobe’s Real Time Media Protocol Flow (RTMFP) communication protocol, which was designed to let Flash or AIR apps talk to each other, to load the file into the recipient’s cache – the emptier the cache, the bigger the file that can be transferred.
RTMFP isn’t technically supposed to be used for file transfer, according to Adobe’s own documentation, but that’s what Pipe’s using it for anyway.