A Setback to PrayerMate Sync

One of my favourite emails I have ever received about PrayerMate was from somebody who said “how have you managed to stop my PrayerMate data on my iPhone syncing with my iPad, and please can you turn this off so that they start syncing?” In the modern age it’s taken for granted that your data will sync via the cloud, but the truth is that for apps that aren’t web-based (where all your data is stored on a central server to start with), data syncing is one of the hardest features to implement – how I wish that it was as simple as “turning off” some extra code that I’d written to stop it happening!

I’ve been slowly working on adding sync to the iOS version of PrayerMate for almost two years now. It’s the kind of work that is only really possible given a decent chunk of time – ideally an entire day or more – and given that I work on PrayerMate in my spare time alongside a full-time job to support my family, these are quite rare and hard to come by. Even when you do make some good progress, it’s often then a few weeks before any issues in your code get discovered, and then you have to wait for another whole-day unit of time before you can investigate and fix said issues. So perhaps you can begin to understand why progress has been so slow!

After a long couple of years, I was all set to hit the big red button and release PrayerMate sync to the public (on both iOS and Android – thanks to last autumn’s crowdfunder that allowed Dave Bignell to work full-time on adding the equivalent feature to the Android app for a good couple of months). And then the email arrived from Dropbox: they’ve decided to discontinue the particular service I’m using due to lack of developer uptake (I partly blame myself, since I’ve been meaning to blog about it and help spread the word but was waiting until I publicly launched before doing so!)

Needless to say, this is a real blow. Not only does it affect the iOS and Android versions of PrayerMate, but it was also integral to the web-based desktop client that was about to go into private beta in the next few weeks.

Dropbox will continue operating their Datastore service for another year until April 2016, so the current plan is that I will still go live as planned, but then work must quickly commence rewriting everything – either built on top of Dropbox’s standard file-based service, or using another option such as Google Drive, or something more in-house (my least favourite option). Whatever the decision, this is extremely demoralising since I was really hoping to be rid of this burden and move on to more interesting features – and instead I face the prospect of yet another year working on the same problem.

I know that God is sovereign, however – and he was not taken by surprise by this issue (nor particularly was I, to be honest). But do pray for wisdom to know how to proceed! (and the determination to see this through to the end)

Perhaps now would be a good time to consider making a donation to the PrayerMate coffers? I’d love to outsource the solution to this problem if I could.

Edit: I’m collating alternatives to the Dropbox Datastore here

Publishing a Private Feed through PrayerMate

PrayerMate has long given churches and Christian organisations the option to publish prayer content that users of the app could then subscribe to. But until recently, the only choice available to those organisations was to make their feed publicly accessible through the “feed gallery”, meaning that anybody in the world could access your content and giving you no control over who could see the things that you published. This has typically worked well for Christian charities who already publicly publish a prayer calendar, but in general churches have been a bit more cautious about broadcasting the specific details of people and activities within their church to an unknown global audience.

Introducing PrayerMate Private Feeds

Since the end of December, PrayerMate now supports private feeds. Each prayer diary published through the PrayerMate Publishing Platform is given a unique (and hard-to-guess) URL and a corresponding QR code. Even if they’re not included in the public feed gallery, you can share that URL or QR code with whoever you want to, and they just open it up in their browser, or scan the QR code using the new button at the bottom of the feed gallery page in the app, and it will grant that person access to your feed.

As an example, here’s how you would subscribe to the Open Doors USA feed: http://prayermate.s3.amazonaws.com/1/f177274cde2d7063e38e03d24bed2f3769c0.html

What it is not: a “secure” feed

I refer to these as “private” feeds rather than “secure” feeds for good reason – that URL is all that’s required to access your prayer content, and ultimately as much as you can request that people don’t pass it on, you still don’t really know whose hands it has fallen in to. There’s no support at present for password-protected feeds or feeds that require specific approval from an administrator before people can access the content. For this reason, you are still advised not to publish content of an extremely sensitive nature, or which might put a missionary’s life or ministry at risk (or anonymise/generalise it where required).

Prayer feed short URLs

Although I originally developed this functionality to create hard-to-access prayer feeds, I quickly realised that it also made existing public feeds earier to access. Upon request, I can now create you a nice “praynow4″ short URL to let people access your feed quickly and easily – a great way to publicise your feed on social media or on your website.

As an example, you can find the Operation World “Country of the Day” feed at http://praynow4.org/OW.

If you want me to create a short URL for your organisation, just drop me an email using the button inside the app.