How tickers works…

… or why tickers is not a RSS/feed/news reader.

Well, first of all, tickers is a free, anonymous and generic notification app. If you don‘t know what tickers is: it’s a notification app. Yes, a notification app. Just in case you missed it: tickers is a notification app. Believe it or not, tickers is a notification app. And, finally, in case I didn‘t mention it before: tickers is a notification app.

This shouldn‘t sound like a rant from a grumpy old man. People often ask me about the difference between tickers and feed reader xyz or why I think it‘s better. Or why they just can‘t add their RSS feed without creating a ticker. I guess you know what I usually answer (but in a nicer way), if you read the previous paragraph carefully. To understand why tickers is not an RSS/feed/news reader, let me explain how it works.

A notification app

First of all, what is the point of a notification app? You all use notification apps everyday, even without knowing it. Your sports app informs you instantly when your favorite team scores. The email app informs you in real time about new mails. A WhatsApp message arrives in the moment the other person sends it. And the app of your favorite news site notifies you about new articles. You see, the point of a notification app is to deliver information in real time to you, that‘s the purpose of it. You don‘t have to be active to get the information, the information gets to you.

And tickers (the name comes from ticker or liveticker) is a free, anonymous and generic notification app (Think of it as a huge WhatsApp group, which everybody can join anonymously and where only you can write messages.). It‘s not coupled to one news site or to one form of sport. It‘s up to you, what information you want to receive (or deliver) with it in real time: sports results, news, appointments or whatever you want. Therefore, you don‘t need ten apps from different news sites on your smartphone, you only need to subscribe the right tickers and channels (or if a ticker is not available, just build it).

How notifications work

Let‘s get technical. I don‘t want to bore you with too much details, but give you a basic overview (and I simplify some things). Here‘s a simple rundown how it works: When you start the app, it requests from the operating system the permission to send you push notifications (this is the point where the permission dialogue opens on iOS). The result is a unique token, which can be used to send your device push notifications. This token is sent to a server and stored in a database for future use. Every OS has different tokens and different push services for sending the push notification to your device. On iOS it‘s called Apple Push Notification Service (APNS), on Android Google Cloud Messaging (GCM) and on Windows it‘s the Windows Notification Service (WNS). Finally, to send a push notification to a device all you have to do is query the token from the database for this device, assemble the request with the token, connect to the correct push service and deliver the request. And if everything is correct, the push notifications shows up on the device. The tickers server do this all the time. Millions of push notifications were already delivered and the number is growing every day.

You may ask how our servers know to which devices they should deliver message? Every time you subscribe a channel in the app, you send a request with this data (the ticker and channel) to our servers. They analyze it and store the information in the database, beneath the push notification tokens. Now, when a message is posted to a channel (via App, API or Connector), the servers query all the devices and their push notification tokens from the database that subscribed this channel. And, as mentioned above, assemble for every device the request and send it to the correct push service.

One note: You can use tickers without push notifications at all. In this case, you don‘t get any notifications and everything mentioned above is obsolete, but all the messages still appear in your personal liveticker, if you open the app. How your liveticker works is more complicated and not part of this article. Maybe, I‘ll write about it later.

Connectors, RSS feeds and the API

We know how messages from a channel are delivered to your device. Now let’s see how the messages are sent to a channel. Currently, there are three ways to send messages to a channel. The most simple way is by using the app. If you ever created a ticker in the app, you have probably seen the option. If you’re a developer you can use the API to automate message sending e.g. from your own servers. The final option is by setting up a Connector in the app. Tickers offers different Connectors, e.g. for RSS feeds, YouTube channels or Instagram.

From an internal point of view, a Connector is a separate program/process that is not part of the tickers core infrastructure (actually, the Connectors run on different servers in another country), processes the data it was build for and sends the result via API to the tickers server. And as it uses the API to deliver the messages, you could, in theory, build your own Connector with some programming skills.

Let’s have a deeper look at the RSS Connector. As the name says it processes all the RSS feeds that were specified in the Connector screen in the app. This means it downloads periodically all the available RSS feeds, processes them and checks for new items (currently this is more than 10 GB of data a day). And if it found a new item in a feed, it sends it back to the tickers server. And all the other Connectors work basically the same.

With this knowledge, we can finally rebuild the whole message chain. If a Connector has a new item available, it create the message with all the needed metadata (the ticker and channel) and sends it via API to the tickers server. The servers read the message and metadata, query the database for the subscribed devices and their push tokens for the target channel and send the requests to the correct push services.

tickers is not a RSS/feed/news reader

As you can see, the option to add RSS feeds is not part of the tickers core infrastructure, it’s a bonus for easily integrating websites into tickers. Tickers works perfectly, even without RSS feeds by sending messages via app or API, while feed readers would basically be useless.

If you use a RSS Connector, you gain a lot of advantages compared to common feed readers: In tickers, RSS feeds are processed on our servers and new items are sent to you as notification and to your personal liveticker. Therefore, tickers is blazing fast, lowers the data usage a lot, increases battery lifetime and you get the information in realtime on your smartphone.

Feed readers, on the other hand, download all the feeds locally, when you start them (some hide this by doing this in the background, even when the app is not running). This takes time, power and bandwidth to crawl all the feeds.

Anyway, tickers is for everyman. It is simple to use and made for people that don’t want to mess around with rss feeds or anything like that. And if you want you can use it like a feed reader with all the benefits.