The end of Spark 360

I went over what’s changed in the latest update to the Xbox Live web dashboard – the site where Spark gets all of its information, and it looks like more than just beacons have disappeared. The Achievements screen, which ordinarily contained a lot of useful information used to optimize achievement tracking has been completely stripped of all but game title, box art and achievements/points earned. Last playedTotal achievementsTotal points, and several other key pieces of data are missing – without these, Spark becomes little more than a simple web client.

For instance, the Total achievements count was used to detect games that could potentially be removed from the games list, and to determine whether or not achievements need to be updated. Without this count, achievements need to be constantly refreshed, since the app would never detect new DLC releases.

The amount of change necessary to get the app hobbling along again amounts to all but a complete rewrite – at the end of which would emerge a barely usable Spark 360.

For this reason, I finally removed Spark 360 from the Google Play store. It may still be available for a few hours, but it should eventually disappear. As of August 29, 2014, there have been 107,543 downloads of the app - it went live November 15th, 2010 (here’s the post that announced its release), which makes it around 3 months shy of 4 years old. Spark started on version 1.6 of Android – it remained backwards compatible with 1.6 until the end.

So where does this leave things? Spark’s source code is still at GitHub and available for anyone who’d like to continue working on it – though with the latest changes to the portal there are fewer than ever reasons to do so. Microsoft has had an official client on Android for a while now, so if you haven’t tried it yet, now may be a good time.

To all of you who supported the app by paying for it or even writing comments, thank you. The popularity of this app far surpassed my expectations, and I’m very grateful to have been involved with it, even if my involvement diminished with time.

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Xbox Live borked. Again

About a week ago, message and achievement functionality in Spark 360 stopped working. Continuing Xbox Live web portal‘s downward slide (last update removed a large chunk of profile information), the latest changes have removed beacons – specifically, ability to view and set them.

By now most of you know that Spark is due to be removed from Google Play in September. The latest changes are fairly sweeping, and I doubt I’ll be able to finish the work in time to have most users update by the time the app is removed from the store. That said, I am working on it, whether or not I can finish it in time.

Thanks for your patience, everyone.

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Spark version 6.50 released – more of a downgrade

A week or so ago Xbox Live underwent some changes that broke parts of Spark 360, rendering it useless for features such as profiles and friends lists. Version 6.50 fixes those issues, but with a considerable caveat – it removes a considerable chunk of features that are no longer available due to the latest changes to the Xbox Live web portal.

Gone are detailed user statistics, such as bionamelocationmottorep and Microsoft points (though removal of the latter is considerably overdue) – with the exception of rep, which is now a slider, none of those stats are available. Missing also is the Find gamertag option in the friends list.

On the bright side, the rest of the Xbox Live functionality should be back to normal.

PSN support, the lesser used half of the app is still broken – due to a change in the authentication protocol which I still haven’t been able to fix. I will do my best to fix this before September, but so far I have been unsuccessful.

While I wrote about this in an earlier post, I should mention again that Spark 360 will be taken off Google Play on September 1st – the latest changes to Live further decrease the usefulness of the app – especially with the official clients now being available. I won’t be making any more changes to the client, but the source code will still be available at https://github.com/pokebyte/Spark360 - anyone who wants to fork and maintain the app is more than welcome.

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Spark 360 updated, nearing end of life

Some time ago, I wrote something that ended up having a considerable effect on both my hobbies and professional interests. On a whim, I put together what ended up becoming Spark 360, one of the first Xbox Live apps on what was then called Android Market. The app was based on an idea I had thrown around – and initially implemented as a small webpage - of being able to access an Xbox Live profile with full support of a native app.

Fast forward to now, a little over three years later. In that time, Spark 360 went from an amateurish freeware app to a commercial application, got a considerable facelift, got the dubious honor of being one of the most pirated Android apps at a time when no one seemed to care (Google included), saw a short-lived, if full-featured iOS version get released, and finally became open source and free, adding support for PlayStation Network in the process. Somewhere along those events, it even landed me a job as an Android developer.

In short, it’s been quite a ride.

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Spark 360 version 6.20 released

I have just released a new version of Spark 360 to Google Play. This is a minor maintenance release which fixes a number of bugs, such as the appearance of PSN popups and Xbox Live status information. This release also adds Terms of Use Update warnings, which should explicitly notify you if the terms on the site change (they have changed very recently), and removes the MS Points converter, since Xbox Live is discontinuing the use of Points.

Since it’s been almost a year since the last Spark 360 release, now seems a good time to mention my future plans with the app. Since releasing its source, my goal has been to maintain it in a workable state, if not occasionally add features. While there haven’t been any new features lately, I have tried to keep the application workable – if a defect persists for an unusual length of time, there’s a good chance that I’m not aware of it (in which case it’d be a good idea to file a new issue at GitHub).

As for longer-term plans for the app – it’s probably a safe bet that I won’t be able to make any more large scale changes (and there are many to make). I was hoping that open sourcing the app would create an influx of third-party contributions, but that has not been the case, and I have since moved on to other projects.

Xbox One is now a little more than two weeks away, and chances are the web interface will change dramatically to accommodate the console’s new features. If that does occur, work on the app will likely cease – I don’t get a chance to play as much as I used to, which also limits my interaction with the app.

Of course if the changes are minor, I will continue to do my best to keep the app functional.

Download from Google Play

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Gofr, the feed reader for the cloud

So about that Google Reader replacement app I mentioned last time… It’s been over three months since I wrote the last post, and I learned quite a bit about scalability and relational database performance since then.

While grr did fine for a while initially, after a while it became painfully obvious why relational databases perform so poorly with quickly growing data. As the application’s storage footprint grew, application navigation started becoming more and more sluggish – switching subscriptions sometimes would take 3 to 6 seconds (in all fairness, the database is on a shared host), and after spending several weeks attempting to optimize data queries, I decided that the undertaking was probably futile.

So I decided to do something that a friend of mine recommended I do all along – write a feed reader for Google App Engine. Somewhat encouraged by the success of goread.io and using bits from grr’s concurrent updater and client-side code, a little less than two months later, the result is Gofr - a feed reader for the cloud, written in Go.

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Google Reader’s looming shutdown

The fallout from Google’s imminent discontinuation of Reader has been interesting, to say the least. A surprising number of individuals (myself included) have created Google Reader knock-offs; a staggering number of startups/hopefuls have sprung up offering similar/same services and experiences. Which (if any) will actually survive remains to be seen, but from what I’ve seen, Feedly seems to have the largest following.

In the three months that passed since the discontinuation was announced, my re-implementation of Reader called grr has gotten to a usability level of a fairly solid Release Candidate – albeit with some missing features. Even in terms of visual appearance, I’ve taken questionable pains to make grr as similar to Reader as possible:

grr Screenshot, June 30

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