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I was once a Facebook fool (numair.com)
1390 points by numair 2133 days ago | hide | past | web | 163 comments | favorite

Wow, well, this got way more attention than I wanted.

First, to be clear -- I have nothing against the guy who took Dave Morin's job (who wasn't supposed to be named -- Amazon CloudFront didn't bother to invalidate its cache when I uploaded the final edit of that paper). He played his cards right, came out hundreds of millions of dollars ahead, and then he got out. He's not in this to control your social life or anything, he just played the Silicon Valley game and got his.

The issue is really about the people who are trying to control your social life, and who are trying to convince the sort of people who read Hacker News to use them as a stable, reliable piece of infrastructure for your projects and businesses. My story is just one datapoint of so many -- most of which are private, but easily discoverable by quietly asking around the Valley -- that should help you realize that Facebook is definitely not the company you want operating the world's social infrastructure. The code might work, the pages might render, but on a deep social and ethical level, Facebook and its platform are not web-scale.

Also, the "sharecropper" and "beware of your platform" arguments don't apply here. Social infrastructure isn't like being a developer for the Playstation -- this is very basic and very global stuff, similar to water or power, and you shouldn't have to question its integrity. I shouldn't get dirty water, or my power shut off, because the CEO of the utility company allows his/her VPs to play God. There's a reason these guys don't call themselves a "social utility" anymore... But anyway, that's a whole 'nother subject, and I'd rather be coding (or socializing!) than writing.

And to all of the people who question why I would even publish something like this -- chill out bro, I'm just obeying Zuckerberg's Law! /disconnect

"Facebook is definitely not the company you want operating the world's social infrastructure."

I couldn't agree more. It's too bad that I was never able to get anyone to believe me when I pointed this out at the very beginning, but I'm glad people seem to be paying attention now.

Wasn't it Cardinal Richelieu who said "Never write a letter and never destroy one." ? :-)

It isn't about the platform, you are completely missing that. Not about Ayn Rand's "amorality" defining SV, which didn't even work out for herself. Those are just a lowly technical tools and excuses.

As you say, it is about the age-old money and power. There is nothing social about those, except for being a substrate to create the two for the "amoral" without deep social and ethical level.


I think comparing Facebook to having access to water or power is a bit of a reach.

I don't think he's comparing FB to water, he's comparing social networking/communication/connection to water. Facebook would then be the utility company, with a de facto monopoly, but no check on its power. (Personally I think competition is the check, and I'm on team Google.)

I don't think he's saying Facebook is like water. I think he's saying facebook is NOT like a stable utility like water or power.

From the top-level comment: "this is very basic and very global stuff, similar to water or power, and you shouldn't have to question its integrity."

So yes, unless my English fails me, he is indeed saying that social networking is (or should be) like a utility.

I believe he means in terms of it being a platform for development. So for instance as a platform for development it might be compared to a utility in which case you wouldn't expect the people that run your water or electric to shut those off because some manager at the plant was playing god. Whereas in Facebook's case this apparently has the potential to happen. Making Facebook a not so attractive platform.

Well he's saying it should be like a utility, but it isn't.

For me a better comparison is emails. Social content should be produced and consumed with the tool of your choice, like emails. cf http://www.douban.com/note/174513094/

It is a metaphorical comparison. I believe he is saying FB has become so ubiquitous and pervasive in our lives, that in the social media it dominates as a fundamental utility. It has become so important to 100's of millions of people and that there is little recourse if you did not want to use them. and yes there is Google plus, but there is not enough people on that service currently to rival the social interactions of Facebook. And regardless of how well a service is designed it is pointless if you can't have the same level of interaction with other people. I think a better comparison would be the monopoly AT&T had over long distance telephone service in the mid-20th century. It was not as essential to living as water or power was but still seen as a monopoly and was broken up into the Baby Bells. I think Facebook falls in that category while you can definitely live your life without it, it has become the de facto place for social interaction. That being the case, you should not have to worry about the integrity or perhaps the malicious behavior of said company.

don't you ever question the strange phenomenon of these giant inhuman corporations manipulating us to the point where we choose one as a team, adopting our allegiance to them as an salient feature of our identity?

they don't give a fuck about us, at all - by definition, they are incapable of doing so.

Facebook is water for your business if your business is Facebook applications.

If you have access to your friends, you can get water and power. It doesn't work the other way around.

the thing - Facebook - has been dirty from its very start

"But anyway, that's a whole 'nother subject, and I'd rather be coding (or socializing!) than writing."

What you wrote here is insightful and well put. I hope you write more.

    There's a reason these guys don't call themselves a 
    "social utility" anymore... But anyway, that's a whole    
    'nother subject
I am reposting my comment on Google+ as it seems relevant to the point raised here:

"""Social networking has two vital utilities. First, it connects people of different geographical locations but of similar interests. The graph of people connected by shared interests is called the interest graph.

Secondly, it enriches existing real life relationships. This is best described within the pre-Facebook era, the era of blogging. At that point, whenever I read a friend's blog, I was always amazed by how much I don't know about him or her. A blog captures something very different about a person, something one can't comprehend even through face to face conversation. In this sense, online social networking is complementing real life social interaction.

In my vision, social networks of the future will continue to push to the limit on each of these fronts. The interest graph is apparently nowhere near complete, and there are opportunities to look for in what is missing through face to face communication, and how software can help with that.

But what Facebook has been doing is much more pervasive than that. They are partly replacing real life interaction. There are less questions to ask of a person as Facebook already shows you whether she has a boyfriend and which bar she went to last night. They are exploiting the narcissism in each and every of us. Every other social network solves a problem and then stays out of our ways. Facebook is trying to become the social life itself."""

I didn't get what you mean by 'not web-scale'

i guess his point was that the reason the web works at all, or tcp/ip, or email, or any of the really successful platforms - is because of certain contracts of openness and (essentially) fair play that are built into the very structure of how they are built.

this openness allows them to scale to that level and without it you can't get to truly global scale.

Please re-read the line, there is a but before "on a deep social and ethical level, Facebook and its platform are not web-scale".

I think he meant for any company to be web-scale there are other sides of the story included too - having big, distributed data centers alone is not sufficient. There is a thing called "privacy" and "trust" which would scale throughout the internet, for which Facebook never had serious concerns, IMO.

I think he means that gatekeepers are a step down from the web, which is not censored.

I once worked for a startup that got screwed trying to build a Facebook music platform - promised the world, then the rug was pulled out from under us (by both the labels and FB, and our two major investors were the labels themselves... it was quite ridiculous). I think we were probably just a pawn used as leverage for their negotiations with other players.

Anyway, yeah, I have little doubt that this story is legit.

Heres a link that may help to debate your doubts: http://www.allfacebook.com/talking-with-facebooks-music-mast...

As a facebook app developer i am aware of what shaky ground it is. I must attest the best days of the platform was when Morin was in charge, people were actually flocking to make apps and the platform was adding features. Ever since he left, feature pruning started, policies were not enforced, facebook changed their designs every month and the platform team inexplicably started reinventing the wheel. Then at some point facebook banned our AdSense revenue stream, and soon after they required 30% cut of our virtual goods.

We have now switched to an external website using facebook connect and are happy with it. I am thrilled that Google+ is building a competing platform.

There are very strong parallels with the Facebook platform and companies building their business model around free traffic from Google. Small guys get walked all over while bigger ones that reciprocate dollars back to the traffic source (such as Demand Media in Google's case, or Zynga in Facebook's) suspiciously get the red carpet.

As a business owner you should absolutely exploit every opportunity you can to get those users from wherever the traffic is flowing from. However, if you don't hedge your bets, you may find that in 3 years instead of having a nice business you have absolutely nothing.

This could be an important differentiator for Google. Let's hope that the competition will heat up on this.

If you're looking to Google for a solution then I think you're looking in the wrong direction. Just look at the latest crop of anti-competitive complaints against them -- like Yelp for one.

Well, at least for now they are the underdog, so it would be in their interest to be more open in the "social" space.

The Yelp case, whatever you may think about it, is in a completely different realm.

Yelp complaining about anticompetitive practices by Google is about as hypocritical as you can get.

It's not especially interesting that Facebook made a deal for a music app (and subsequently supported that deal over a competitor). This is business, not charity.

What's interesting to me is that iLike -- the success story of early platform days -- was being promoted heavily from within Facebook itself. If you read the press at that time, you'd have been excused for thinking that the Partovi brothers were the victims of a random lightning strike -- just two guys who got lucky with a tiny little app. I know that in Seattle, everyone was buzzing about how iLike was caught so "unaware" by their traction that they were borrowing servers from local companies just to keep up. Now it turns out that the "overnight success" was at least somewhat pre-ordained.

It's just another bit of practical evidence about the origins of business success in the Valley. Your rolodex matters a lot.

If everyone had known from the start that Facebook would make that kind of deal and kick all other apps of the same kind out, it would have been OK. But running a platform that is supposedly governed by rules and then using underhand tactics like these to kill apps arbitrarily is not OK.

It puts a big question mark on Facebook as a platform and I think the author of the article is right that everyone should think very carefully before building on top of that sort of "platform".

You run this risk when you build on or using any type of platform. If you build something that is hugely successful you might get acquired by the platform provider, or if it's cheaper they might build it themselves.

You can generalise even further: when going into a business partnership, weight up the risks that the other party will become competitors in the future. That seems to be what is happening between Apple and Samsung at the moment.

Yon't run this risk when building for Windows or OS X.

I’m not saying the author is wrong here but I think he’s unfair in attacking just Facebook.

The one thing I learned from my time in the valley is that EVERYONE is looking out for themselves. That isn’t meant as negatively as it sounds. People go there to prove themselves. Either by making money or making their mark on the world (which is why people like Sean Parker stick around even after they’ve made money). But whatever the case they’re in it to win at all costs.

That’s why people work 18 hours a day and pour every cent they have into their startup.

But that’s the relevant point. If people are going to give up everything in their lives to win you can’t assume they’ll then hinder their chances by looking out for your needs. In this story the author is upset because Facebook decided they had a better chance of winning by partnering with iLike. But could you really expect any company in the valley to act differently?

There are plenty of places in the world where the environment isn’t as competitive and if that appeals to you then you should go there. But if you decide to start a company in the heart of the startup world you should expect everyone to be working towards their own goals and plan accordingly. That means NEVER relying on ANYBODY more than you have to and ALWAYS having a backup plan.

All the more reason not to be a sharecropper and build your application on an open platform. If you know you're working in an environment in which everyone is looking out solely for their own interests, you might as well start out on even footing rather than with a Facebook or Microsoft holding the keys to your project's success.

What open platform? Diaspora is a joke at this point.

HTTP, HTML, and Javascript. (I will say, though, that I'm holding out a sliver of hope for Google+ becoming a federated platform.)

Just make facebook a social plugin/driver to your stand alone web app that you can swap out with ease. Make adding your app to G+ be a 1 week/ 2 day project for features available on both.

Steve Blank feels otherwise: http://steveblank.com/2011/09/15/the-pay-it-forward-culture/

You don't have to be Machiavellian to succeed.

I worked with Steve at a company. Steve isn't a nice guy. Steve is definitely a win at all costs type of person despite how he might try to portray himself right now. He brought men and women to tears and belittled them as did many of the people under him at his apparent approval.

In his mixergy interview, he was a nice, great, caring guy, but when Andrew took a wrong step, Blank sort of lost it on air. I chalked it up to he having a bad day or being highly stressed, but it was interesting to see such a quick shift in character.

It reminds me of that scene in "Inside Job" where Columbia Dean Glenn Hubbard changes tone after a question he doesn't like. It's as if he pulled a mask off and became a monster.

It's those small behavioral observations that make humans so interesting to me.

Note: Steve Blank has chosen to be a public figure so I don't believe talking about his behavior is equivalent to gossip.

That type of behavior is representative of someone with an anger problem. And you're right this could also be chalked up to someone, anyone, having a bad day. But in this case (as you described) he was doing an interview and is for all intents and purposes retired and having a great time being toast of the startup town. He's didn't just get fired from HP or anything. (And of course what you described is what I did experience.)

But that video appears to have vanished. If you can find a link I'd like to see it.

http://ifile.it/mdk43ht - this link will probably be dead in a week or two

(BTW, if you save everything you find interesting, you realize just how much disappears from the Internet. The half-life of the average link is about 4.5 years.)

It's been a while since I've watched it, but I didn't get the impression that Blank lost it. As I remember, Andrew just made a big deal out of his minor misstep and focused on the misstep rather than getting the interview back on track. I think most interviewees, not just Blank, would find this annoying.

Please consider my comment retracted (I can't delete it); Andrew did a much better job than I remembered.

Thanks - I will watch the entire clip later (looks interesting) but a quick scan and I would say what appears to be the part of the interview that was referred to seems to be somewhat ambiguous. And I think you're right I wouldn't characterize it as "lost it" either. Although he does appear irritated and says he was "blindsided" I don't think this is really representative of the Steve that I remember and commented about (no clips of that sorry..)

It starts at about 20:10 and Steve says he was "blindsided" at about 21:00 approx. as if he was misled or something by Andrew. I thought the question Andrew asked was a good question.

In general I think SV has a nice culture: people help each other. For example, Jonathan and Laura from Hackers and Founders.

The competitive environment does not require behavior which is dishonest and win at all costs. There is a simple rule in business: if you are not sure whether to lie or not, tell the truth. Follow that rule and soround yourself with people like that you will be fine.

Yes there are some assholes (and they ended up rich - go figure). Just be smart and avoid people who are not transparent and dishoest.

>But if you decide to start a company in the heart of the startup world you should expect everyone to be working towards their own goals and plan accordingly. That means NEVER relying on ANYBODY more than you have to and ALWAYS having a backup plan.

couple quotes come to mind by association:

"Never believe them. Never fear them. Never ask them anything."

"You should never ask anyone for anything. Never- and especially from those who are more powerful than yourself."

You can look out for yourself without lying, cheating, or backstabbing others. You can operate as a moral, ethical person, and not have to mislead people, or break your promises.

Looking out for yourself is not the problem, dishonesty is.

This becomes a bigger problem when dishonesty becomes part of the culture.

I'll agree with outright lying in that a person knowingly lying to another person is wrong. But with the rest I'm not sure I can agree.

Because again the Valley is a kill or be killed environment. The assumption is that others will look out for themselves. So, for example, if someone were to promise me something I'd ask for a contract. If I don't get a contract I'd assume that person was planning to violate that promise some day. Because that's how that environment works.

And I'm not sure it could be any other way. Because the stakes are so high. It is human nature for people to forgive themselves if they feel they're acting for a higher cause. So if that person believes their company will make them billions of dollars and make the world a better place then they're likely to forgive themselves for telling a lie here or there.

It may not be right but it's the way the world works (and honestly it's why I don't live there anymore)

I try to avoid contracts because they're a huge timesuck and potentially expensive to get reviewed, not because I intend to screw you. If it's a really big deal in terms of potential monetary damages, though, then you're probably right.

That's an interesting point. I've always thought of contracts as being the mechanism by which two honest parties clarify the terms of their agreement, such that the main value was getting the details written down, and agreed on, where they might otherwise be missed.

It depends on the business, of course, but while I won't sign something I disagree with, I'd never trust that a court would have my back in a dispute. I'm more more concerned with whether the other party has integrity, and has interests aligned with mine, than specific terms of an agreement.

In large part, I think of contracts as unenforceable, though maybe this comes from working at startups so much where you sign contracts, but you know that at your current size you couldn't afford the court case to enforce the contract, if it came to that.

Mediation makes them more viable, though, since it lowers the barrier for getting a dispute heard.

I think you and I don't live in Silicon Valley for very similar reasons. Plus, I just find the high risk focus a distraction from building a scalable business.

Agreed. And as a San Francisco startup guy for a dozen years, that balance between honesty and self-interest is generally what I have seen here. There are assholes wherever you go, but I've benefited a lot from the relatively collaborative environment here, and try to give back in turn.

> without lying, cheating, or backstabbing...not have to mislead people, or break your promises.

From my time in the valley, I'd say dishonesty, misleading clients, breaking promises, not delivering on time, all of that is very much a part of the sv culture.

At Sun, we'd tell all our clients that Microsoft was evil, out to crush us. Our CEO Scott McNealy sent around a famous email about the sizes of MS & non-MS file formats. "Sun will win" had 12 chars * 1byte/char = 12 bytes as a textfile, 24 bytes as an Openoffice file, and 100,000 bytes as an MS powerpoint slide! While entirely factual, it was quite a dubious example, considering that internally within Sun, we happily used Wintel machines, used powerpoint for presentations, emailed Word files around instead of PDFs, and dissed openoffice as a piece of junk :)

When Java was in its infancy ( 1997-2000 period ), a lot of promises were made & fell by the wayside. Sun was building up its consulting arm, so we'd go out to customer sites and say Yes Java can do this, that and the other. Then we'd come back & Javasoft would tell us, look this feature is simply not part of the forthcoming API. Sometimes they'd get an old wise Unix/C hacker to write C code to do whatever was necessary beneath the covers, and then write a JNI wrapper atop that and thus claim Hey Java can actually do telnet & ftp natively ( Ha!).

I had to deal with a lot of graphics code that was routinely promised & arrived DOA. One of the primary requirements for most financial sevices firms was a table widget to display spreadsheets. AWT didn't have one. Someday there was suposed to be something called Swing, and it would have a powerful table API that would rival the MFC widgets in its power. That's what Sun told us, and that's what we as Sun consultants sold to all our Wall Street clients. But the damn thing took so long to build, every firm had their own proprietary table APIs.

At GS I worked on something called GSTable ( God those horrible memories make them go away! ) So this godawful GSTable was a homecooked solution to display tabular data. I started with something stupid - create an array of Label ( AWT labels ) and put them in a Panel. This created m x n + 1 components per table - too heavy & memory intensive. Then when Swing came out & didn't have a table, we made m x n JLabel's and put them into a JPanel. Over the summer, a Princeton computer graphics intern coded up a canvas ( just 1 custom Component ) that overrode paint() and drew all the cell contents. That worked so well, GS made the teen a six figure offer while he was still in his junior year. All he'd have to do is maintain that table widget! He wisely turned them down & went on to become a computer graphics heavyweight. Meanwhile, I worked on that GSTable as it went through various iterations, until it was actually capable of displaying rows and columns with different sizes, which was apparently a very common requirement in finance. Then finally the Swing JTable arrived! I was like Hallejulah end of all my misery! But alas, Sun's promises & its deliverable were so far apart. That JTable couldn't display multiwidth rows, the paint code was riddled with scaling bugs, it was a bloody mess. There were actual fuck this and fuck that blocks of code in the repaint...the frustrated Javasoft developer wrestling with repaint math! So we stuck with the GSTable. Then IBM came out with their SWT, you had Marimba with their desktop widgets...but everytime we decided to adopt something as the standard, that company would just vanish into thin air...Marimba decided it wanted to get out of AWT widgets business and stick to push technology so that was that...so many broken promises and toy widgets, certainly none of them worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars in license fees.

Everybody likes to paint wall st as a paragon of evil while the poor honest tech genius slogs away in the valley working on the cutting edge of technology. In reality, greed is rampant on both sides, money flows from main st to wall st & from there on to the valley. Everybody's got his fingers in the cookie jar.

"From my time in the valley, I'd say dishonesty, misleading clients, breaking promises, not delivering on time, all of that is very much a part of the sv culture."

Vaporware comes to mind.

As well as my own personal experience being told not to inform mfg. reps and vars about known bugs and problems (this was early 90's). Not knowing the ropes at the time I was threatened in a meeting for suggesting we do something that is more or less routine today.

And this type of dishonesty brings much pain and frustration on people using the product.

Who was that "Princeton computer graphics intern" and what did he build afterwards?

Dude...its all such a blur..I'd have to rent a time machine and hit the computer graphics depts at all the ivies. But I did find some JTable code from way back then, in the bugfix archive http://www.mail-archive.com/classpath-patches@gnu.org/msg018...

public void setRowHeight(int rh, int row) { setRowHeight(rh); // FIXME: not implemented }

So that was actual code that Sun shipped. A method setRowHeight(rh,row) that allowed you to change the height of row number 'row' to 'rh', instead changed the height of ALL rows to 'rh' because the alternative was too hard and therefore not implemented! So much for multi-height rows.

Sharecropping is kind of a weird analogy to use here.

In farming, sharecropping is the low risk way to grow your business. It is the landlord that takes on much of the burden if the crop fails. But with small risk comes small reward.

In technology, "sharecropping" is the high risk venture. The landlord here assumes no risk at all if your application fails. The burden falls squarely on you. However, with the high risk, if you hit it big, the payoff potential is huge.

So while there are some parallels, from a business point of view, working with someone else's platform is nothing at all like sharecropping.


Sharecropping exists when landowners have limited access to capital, but extensive land holdings and abundant access to indigent labor. It was a technique devised to keep the tenant around until after harvest time.

Poor farmers have lots of children, and the large resulting labor force gives the landlord an incentive to evict the tenant or jack up the rent immediately after harvest. It was popular in places like Scotland, Ireland and the Reconstruction South, so you can be sure the system is/was more beneficial to the land owner.

Sharecropping is an arrangement with a land owner who rents out their land to a farmer for the payment of a percentage of the crop instead of cash.

It reduces the risk for the farmer because they only have to pay based on what they are able to grow instead of a fixed amount as seen in most cash-rent arrangements. The landowner stands to lose if the crop is a failure, but can make more if the crop is a success.

The term may also come with some historical meaning, but that is what sharecropping has come to mean today.

Edit: Down vote me if you wish, but that is what sharecropping is in the rural community. Speaking as a farmer, sharecropping is a great way to access land in a low-risk way. I don't know why sharecropping land is seen as a negative.

I accept that in response to abuses, the practice may have evolved over time. However, that does not in any way diminish the value of the metaphor, because the vast majority of people who encounter the word “sharecropper” think of the kind of farmer who can be evicted after harvest and often were.

Further to that, I strongly suspect that most of those who are aware that the practice has evolved since those draconian times read the metaphor and immediately grasp that the metaphor refers to the historical meaning of the word and can go on to extract value from it without belabouring a pedantic point.

I will go further and challenge you: When you read the above posts, were you unaware of the historical behaviour of landlords and sharecroppers? Is it news to you that this practice was so abused that the word has pejorative overtones even though the practice may have evolved in modern times?

Or is it simply that you wish to share with us the interesting news that times have changed for farming sharecroppers even if they haven’t for developers on proprietary platforms?

The term computer used to mean a person who sat at a desk doing mathematical calculations. When someone talks about their Amazon computing cluster, I don't picture a huge office building full of people putting pen to paper, crunching numbers all day long, even though that is exactly what computing cluster would have meant at one point in time.

When the term sharecropper is used, one will naturally turn to the meaning of sharecropping today, not hundreds of years ago. I am familiar of the stories of "sharecroppers" of the past, but sharecropping does not refer to those people anymore. Words are evolving all the time and present day usage is what is important when communicating with others.

When the term sharecropper is used, one will naturally turn to the meaning of sharecropping today

Only people who know that this term is still being used today and in what context. I suspect that most people don't know this, and will revert to the historical meaning.

The term sharecropper has two meanings.

The first one is the modern day practice. "He's a sharecropper because he uses share cropping in his business" refers to the modern day agricultural practice. Whatever economic system they use is irrelevant.

In almost all other cases, particularly in regards to Technology, it refers to the old school practice of share cropping and is using it as such.

Present day usage has nothing to do with it. It is all about context. If 80% of HN agree that sharecropper means X, then it means X. Sharecropper in this sense has become a piece of jargon among business and technology folks.

The old-school practice is the same as the modern-day practice: the landlord rented his land to tenant farmers in exchange for a share of their crop. randomdata's statement:

> In farming, sharecropping is the low risk way to grow your business. It is the landlord that takes on much of the burden if the crop fails. But with small risk comes small reward.

is just as true of sharecropping in 1911 as of sharecropping in 2011.

The difference he draws between sharecropping on a farm and sharecropping on a web site doesn't make sense, though.

In USAmerican schools, children are taught that sharecropping was an unethical farming practice (ab)used by former slave owners. Perhaps modern day farmers are aware of the modern sharecropping practice, but it certainly isn't taught in schools, nor is it in the common experience.

I also interpreted the word as randomdata did.

I think this is an American thing. When I think of sharecropping it makes me think of farmers under a landlord in medieval England or something. Not a great power dynamic but the word isn't all that negative, it just emphasises (when used as a metaphor elsewhere) that you work and stay at the landlord's pleasure.

I've heard americans use the word before but didn't realise it came loaded with all this historical meaning from the slavery era, turning it into a highly negative concept.

Most Americans have long left the "rural community" and equate sharecropping with the exploitation of freed slaves after the end of the Civil War.

Thank you. At least in the United States, sharecropping has historical associations with racism and Jim Crow. Suggesting that sharecropping is a low risk way to farm is ignoring the cultural implications if the term. As if former slaves and their descendants made a rational economic decision to become oppressed.

Seems like it is still a bad metaphor then: are Facebook platform developers really analogous to freed slaves?

If I overreacted, I apologize. I've heard of farmers leasing land, but I've never heard the term "sharecropper" used in a modern setting.

My grandfather's family were sharecroppers in Ireland, so I grew up with view of the practice that may be somewhat one-sided.

the term everyone means is not sharecropping its Farm renting...the Big farm owner rents out certain parcels because he has neither the time nor the labor and equipment to plant and harvest...

But, like the much maligned sharecropping its heavily tipped in the Farm owners favor.

I disagree; I think the analogy is apt.

You lack the resource to grow your business, so you borrow someone else's and operate at their whim.

Contracts aside, the sharecropper's entire livelihood could be undermined on the whim of the landowner. Someone else has power over your ability to produce.

Not at all. Sharecroppers are typically protected by contract law; landlords can't just arbitrarily evict them in the middle of the growing season. By contrast Facebook can change their API or terms of service at any time. Facebook developers have no way to seek redress (except the court of public opinion).

Only an idiot would evict the farmer in the middle of the season. You wait until after the harvest.

As I said, "Contracts aside...".

Great links, Reg!

That said, here is good opportunity to prosper on other peoples' platforms, but diversify.

And when Facebook says to either remove your widget from Google+, or it will be removed from Facebook?

Diversification is at their pleasure too.

Then you should contact the antitrust authorities: This is a blatant anti-competitive behavior if there is one...

True, but to adapt the old Wall Street saying, the courts can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.

'Chamath had been previously known to me from my friends at Winamp as "the guy who fucked Winamp," (after Winamp had been sold to AOL) and seemed like a pretty lame dude.'

Does anyone know more about this back story?

I too would like to know more. The more I learn about them the more I see AOL as a fucking disease.

While Dave Morin worked quietly and bravely to defend me against the moves of iLike and Facebook executives to shut down Audio, he eventually found himself as a casualty in a greater power play quietly orchestrated by Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg, in which he was demoted and replaced by Chamath Palihapitiya.

Do the two guys that run the company really need to "orchestrate" a "power play" to promote one person over another? I think this sounds far more Machiavellian than it likely was.

Growth company, big money over the horizon, you don't want to see another lawsuit coming from your employees.

"If you are entrusting your life data to Facebook, or if you are depending on Facebook and its platform for your livelihood, beware."

I think you should always be careful when you are entrusting any third party with your livelihood. You can only plan so much, but when your business plan requires that one crucial system and you have no way to even have a contingency plan, then you have to realize that it could easily be a make or break deal at any point in time.

On the other hand that doesn't mean you can avoid them altogether. In the ideal case, you have the option to choose among competing platforms. The problem with facebook is that since the end of myspace, it's still the largest web app platform.

> In the ideal case, you have the option to choose among competing platforms.

My ideal is not to entrust my livelihood to any third party.

Obviously, it depends on what I want to build, but so far I'm happy not using any social platform beyond, say, email. The free, open platform of the Internet, LAMP stack, a web framework, and search engines is fine for me. I almost, but not quite, regret the time I've put into using Facebook at all, never mind basing my livelihood on it.

Spoken like someone whose business was never impacted by a search engine update, or whose email was never filtered by a major email provider.

While some platforms are more free and open than others, our livelihoods are all somewhat dependent on third parties. Hope for the best and plan for the worse.

Totally agreed about search engine updates. I also agree that we all have some dependence on others as part of living in society, but that's at a different level-- I don't need to worry about Safeway returning "access denied" next time I try to buy a box of cereal.

I disagree about email filtering. A friend sending another friend an email that says, "Check out this cool thing I saw" does not get filtered by anyone. Email that borders on spam gets filtered, sure, but overall, email serves as one of the most open communication platforms we've ever had. It's a drastic difference from Facebook or Myspace.

Have you ever tried to send bulk e-mail? Even if you're doing everything right with double-opt-in, watching your sender scores, managing your bounce-backs, etc, etc, etc, you will get banned by some major e-mail provider (say Yahoo or Comcast) and spend days to weeks (sometimes months) working to get it sorted out. So, no, I don't disagree with the e-mail thing at all.

I was talking about interpersonal email ("A friend sending another friend an email"), but by chance, yes, I have sent bulk email. I don't dispute that bulk messages can be banned, sometimes capriciously, by the big guys. My point is that for social emails, i.e. emails between people, the email system is a very open, free system. Overall, that's the kind of system I want to base my livelihood on.

To give a concrete example: a few years ago, I set up an email server in my garage using an old computer that was being thrown away at work. I used all free software. It successfully sent email. None of my emails were blocked. I engaged with my social network, (my "friends") using it. If my ISP had blocked my email sending, there were many, many other providers willing to send my email for the price of the connection. Given that spam cannot be eliminated, despite decades of trying, I think it's fair to say that I won't run out of alternatives, especially given that the email I want to send is innocuous.

By comparison, I cannot set up a Facebook server in my garage. If Facebook blocks me, I'm done. If that was my livelihood, I'm fully screwed.

I don't think you should avoid those situations either, the thing is you need to set your expectations to what is realistically possible. A startup is a gamble, we all know that - and you are increasing the odds against you when you are relying on some third party. It doesn't mean everyone should stop working with third parties, but it does mean that it is a sizable risk that you are adding to your business model, and you need to be aware of that when analyzing the risks you are willing to take.

For how long? I casually mentioned deactivating my facebook account over dinner in Mexico last weekend. Two strangers from elsewhere in the world perked right up as they had just done the same thing. None of us had any specific reasons; we just 'felt' like turning it off.

So, it doesn't matter if Facebook is evil or not - I simply don't like it, and it seems that others share that sentiment. I had seen notable figures for a recent up-tick in deactivations, but I was very interested to find other people flipping the switch with a shrug.

How much time should I invest in anything exhibiting that kind of trend?

Would be cool to have a website that list people who just turned off their facebook account :).

The latest Facebook Timeline feature is creepy and I'm starting to think in your direction as well. But having said that, I'd like to know what my friends are up to once in a while and have casual sudden conversation with them.

I can empathize with you and your new acquaintances. I just deactivated my account as well and have several friends who have done the same.

Where is this data you mentioned that shows an uptick in deactivations? I'd be interested in taking a look at it.

This is one of the difficulties of Just In Time manufacturing

This is not endemic to Facebook. It applies to any platform. Apple, eBay, Amazon, etc.

When you build a business on their platform, you don't have a business. You have a product on their platform and it is their product. They are simply taking a hands-off approach and reaping the benefits. They can shut you down at any time and they will, when it suits their interests.

That is the key here. That conflict of interest. Most of the time, it isn't an issue ... but when it comes to the surface, you will be thrown under the bus.

Also, the customers you think you have ... they're not your customers. If you went to a different platform, those customers would not come along. The customers, they are their customers, not yours.

This is not endemic to Facebook. It applies to any platform. Apple, eBay, Amazon, etc.

I'm not sure this is really true. If you build a regular application for Windows, Linux, or OS X, Microsoft, Red Hat, or Apple can't control whether I install your application. No one "approves" Firefox for OS X. Curated, for lack of a better term, applications only appear on particular platforms -- cell phones, sub-sections of websites, and so forth.

The desktop is moving in this direction as well. Your example of OS X is shaky in particular, given the App Store. Even if it's still _possible_ in the future, acquiring apps outside the official channel will be exceptional, done only by enthusiasts.

I was going to say the same- I bet it would have been done long ago if, for example, MS thought they could get away with it.

I'm curious as to how the law is going to interpret this in the future. The closed ecosystem of ios may be a bad (in my mind) precedent.

The time has come when Microsoft does think they can get away with it. All Metro apps on Windows 8 will have to go through their app store approval process.

I really hate this trend. That's one thing good that Java brought to the table. Everyone had Java installed, so getting my apps "installed" was just a matter of getting them downloaded.

If only this was the year of the Linux deskto... oh, nevermind.

This is why I always help people crack their devices, even if they're mainly interested in warez. We need to ability to work around censorship which we'll lose if we let ourselves be locked down.

If you were big enough to be a threat, then you have a pretty good problem on your hands. Yes your platform host might throw you under the bus, but I'm betting you could turn it around.

Sobering to see a story in which the record labels are, in comparison, the good guys.

Definitely not the good guys. While I totally sympathize with Numair's story, I can actually see scenarios where both Numair and Chamath would be telling the truth.

We were sitting in the record label's offices with the biz dev guys (and even the CEO!) telling us how great this partnership was going to be, and somewhere else in the building the general counsel was issuing threatening statements. The business side had very little control over the legal side.

Why the "good guys"? At best they were a neutral party who just wanted to flog their wares.

See Gruber[1] on being a middle man. If your business is reselling someone else's content on someone else's platform, you're going to get fucked right quick.

[1]: http://daringfireball.net/2011/03/dirty_percent

A google search about numair faraz turned up this article http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/26/motorola-insider-tells-al... . An interesting read mainly because it was brave.

or one could conclude that he has a history of publicly blaming higher-ups and corporate management for failures in which he was involved. what's brave about embarrassing your boss and your company publicly? or making unsubstantiated claims about conspiracies against you?

  what's brave about embarrassing your boss and your company publicly
Without saying anything about his character or motives, it is a given that public criticism of your current or former boss and/or company will have negative consequences for your career.

Knowingly doing so is brave and/or foolhardy regardless of whether your motives are noble or crass.

He sounds like someone who cares about the company instead of a soulless drone who keeps quiet and counts his chips while looking for the next job.

Interesting article and definitely a good read. But I find it interesting that it has broken the top 20 most upvoted articles of all time on HN and is threatening the top 10. This probably has to do with f8 and whatever amount of "upvote inflation" that may be taking place as a result of more users being on HN (6 of the top 10 all-time most upvoted links are from this year. Only one in the top 20 comes before 2010). Timing is everything I guess.

1 1638 Steve Jobs Resigns as CEO of Apple [2011-08-24]

2 1324 Boot a linux kernel right inside your browser. [2011-05-17]

3 1262 Introducing Word Lens [2010-12-17]

4 1232 Today you, tomorrow me [2010-12-14]

5 1196 Google Buys Motorola For $12.5 Billion [2011-08-15]

6 1129 A new approach to China [2010-01-12]

7 1100 Ooops. [2011-06-16]

8 1083 So A Blogger Walks Into A Bar… [2010-09-21]

9 1004 Airbnb Nightmare: No End In Sight [2011-07-29]

10 994 Twitter Bootstrap [2011-08-19]

11 940 Thoughts on Flash [2010-04-29]

12 929 Violated: A traveler’s lost faith, a difficult lesson learned [2011-07-27]

13 906 Chosen: A javascript plug-in that makes long select boxes user-friendly. [2011-07-22]

14 859 I was once a Facebook fool [2011-09-23]

15 856 Osama bin Laden Is Dead [2011-05-02]

16 850 I don't learn anything on HN anymore, bring back the upvote count [2011-04-28]

17 832 How I Hacked Hacker News (with arc security advisory) [2009-06-03]

18 827 Bored People Quit [2011-07-12]

19 822 33GB of public domain JSTOR articles, and a manifesto [2011-07-21]

20 808 A lesson on the importance of encouraging your children with their projects [2011-07-13]

> the top 20 most upvoted articles of all time

I don't think that's an accurate list, as it excludes [dead]ed articles. Zed Shaw's "Programming, Motherfucker" received 870 upvotes: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2355427

what is the link to the deaded article

A more interesting metric is: # of votes up / (# of times viewed or # of users viewed)

(to normalize against changing userbase size)

This is OT but the term upvote inlfation made me think of it.

I don't see why any story gets more than, say, 300 votes. Honestly if a story gets more than a couple of hundred it's on the home page for at least a day - is that not enough? Why do people even bother continuing to upvote those stories?

To me it just suggests that comparatively no-one reads the newest section or votes there.

Basically the new pages is moving way too fast compared with the front page.

I recall Chamath Palihapitiya also figured somewhat prominently in the Beacon saga. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook_Beacon#Privacy_concern...

Edit: I see the FA has been edited, now referring to him as "AOL Guy"

He also replaced 'iLike' with 'the "competitor"' and 'Sean Parker and Mark Zuckerberg' with 'senior Facebook executives'

Not the first interesting tell-all by Numair: http://public.numair.com/2006_parker.html

This is not new, there are tons of tales online of Facebook cutting off apps because they were working on a competitive product. Just this summer a ton of photo apps got their access removed with no explanation, only to find out that Facebook was revamping their galleries.

My own Facebook developer story...going from 21MM MAU to less than 500k. In our case, we were booted off of key pages (profile pages) and replaced by Facebook's own functionality.


I do think Platforms, in the long run, if they want to win, need to treat developers fairly and honestly, as much as possible. Like other developers, I'm glad to see other social and mobile platforms to build for.

"I was sitting in Jimmy Iovine's office; Jimmy personally called the GC of Universal"

That's worth the price of admission alone. Sounds like fun!

Here's a prediction: Since facebook "senior executives" are so fond of central planning, i.e., personally picking winners and losers for kickbacks, instead of creating a level playing field and letting the users pick the best services, its very likely that facebook will suffer the same fate as other centrally planned entities...viz., run into the calculation problem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_calculation_problem). They'll make one big miscalculation that will be the end of it. The most obvious miscalculation is mismanaging security, letting in a potent virus that takes down all or enough of facebook's servers.

Numair also has a very interesting read of a homepage. http://numair.com/

"Live your life as though it is the world's best-kept secret, as though you are living in an amazing TV show with an audience of one."

Every time i read something like this, I think about the fred wilson quote about being someone's bitch. Anyone have that direct link?

I had no idea what you were talking about. But Googling "Fred Wilson bitch" gives this: http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/23/fred-wilson-be-your-own-bit...

I've never seen or heard Sean Parker speak, so this really just reinforces to me that Justin Timberlake is a douchebag.

I did not realize until this point that it was this very Numair who wrote this brilliant answer on Quora http://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-so-difficult-to-build-a-music...

I definitely sympathize with the story - that just flat out sucks... but... Making a "feature" product is always a bad idea, IMHO, for reasons even beyond the ones the author points out. You should never build a feature for a product, if history is not a lesson on its own - very few of them make a successful exit. At any point, the company might decide they can do it better than you or it would be cheaper to build the feature than acquire you - or, most importantly, your hacks and external servers might not mesh well with their vision of an integrated platform.

So, is getting "Zuckerberged" now a legitimate synonym for getting screwed?

How about just shortening it to getting "Zucked"?

"If you are entrusting your life data to Facebook, or if you are depending on Facebook and its platform for your livelihood, beware. In the real Facebook world, there is no trust, and there is no friendship -- there is only money and power. Think really hard -- really, think -- before trusting Facebook or its employees with anything. Don't be a Facebook fool."

You have perfectly worded what I have felt. I've watched Facebook evolve into Big Brother over the past few years. People seem to have no idea that they don't see us as beings but as bytes.

I agree with, But it also means that in this industry you have to have a backup plan of some sort. He knew the character of Sean Parker and his antics. The man is a player and always will be.The industry is a relentless field of battle. Doesn't excuse leading someone on though.

i know to well of having a business partner lead me on while he worked other projects.

But i dont think Facebook as a company should take all the blame for that one person.

tl;dr: Facebook offerings are skewed by corporate politics and whoever can score a better partner deal.

No surprises here. Large companies are heavily staffed by biz dev people whose job it is to make partnership deals. The key essential ingredient in all partnership deals, the brass ring, is "exclusivity" without which there often is no deal to speak of. This particular individual unfortunately was not awarded exclusivity.

It seems like doing any sort of business around the Music Industry is a massive pain in the head, and liable to get you sued/shut down easily.

This is true.Being originally from the Bronx NY i have been in connection with a few people who know how FAT JOE does business.

Allegedly Puerto Rican and African American rappers from the Bronx were getting signed to FAT JOES label and then being kept on the back burner for publication.

Turns out the plan was to make sure to not have any new rap icons come from the Bronx so that he can get all the notoriety of being the Bronx icon. The music business is no joke. This is a true story.

Why is Facebook special? Twitter supported bit.ly and Google supports Google Reader. They all act the same.

google reader is google's own product. what is your point with that?

And that is why it is first result for keyword reader? or feed? They use search to support RSS. Not to mention Checkout. And those messages in Gmail about Firefox being not optimal? It's is the same thing: using one product to support another one. I dont give a damn if Chrome is google's or not.

I want to say that they all do that. I don't support it, but it's not unique for Facebook.

Aren't there laws against things like this?

Against bad-mouthing big, powerful, businesses? Yeah, I think so.

I believe that "bad-mouthing" does not imply "lying". There are no laws against vilifying, criticizing severely, speaking unfavorably of big, powerful businesses as long as you have some backup in facts.

Edit: Supreme courts (or equivalents) in most countries make it very clear in their verdicts that protecting the right to expose scoundrels is very high on their priority list. Especially if the scoundrels are big and powerful. Public interest and all that.

Big powerful businesses maybe, but apparently you can tell the truth and still have to pay damages to individuals: http://www.startribune.com/local/117805398.html

It depends on the country maybe.

That's why nowadays in almost every company in the agreement the employee signs one of the terms is that he is to never talk about the company in a way that will affect it's reputation negatively.

IANAL, but it sounds like a clause like this flies directly in the face of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I very seriously doubt that any company can control its former employee's true speech.

It depends on the jurisdiction.

If you live where there are, then there shouldn't be

Congratulations I think you are now the all time #2 behind the announcement that Steve Jobs is leaving!

I was once a Facebook fool, now I'm just a Facebook tool.

Seems strange that Chamath was 'evil' wanting to get his friend's business in as the music app for facebook, but it was totally fine when the author was getting his friend in? Seems like a double standard

I missed the part where the author asked his friend to have other music apps pulled on order to promote his own app? Apparently this is what Chamath did, and what Morin tried to keep from happening.

This is a great insight, thanks for sharing!

Facebook, the world's easiest site to hack, is on the front page 3 times yet again today. But the links are not about hacking, they are about how great Facebook is.

I submit to you that this is not hacker news, but rather victim news.com.

Good luck fuckers.

Facebook was designed to provide corporate America with your email addresses. There are over 400 known hacks. Every-time you click on a link to Facebook - it's moron+1.

Nasty business so watch your back

Too much DRAMA.

Could have happened at any other big company. No biggie. "Facebook" here is just headline making. I don't deny it being u-g-l-y and bad, just that it's not a Facebook issue.

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