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Why developers are leaving the Facebook platform (andrewchen.co)
288 points by andrew_null on April 22, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 126 comments

Why some developers are leaving the Facebook platform.

I'm working on a thing right now that's integrated with Facebook, and I'm excited about it.

The problem author mentions are all legitimate, but only applicable to a certain category of apps - and I think both users and Facebook alike are of the opinion "don't let the door hit your ass on the way out".

We're talking about the spammy apps that try to take over your news feed, and that constantly overshare in an attempt at "virality". Social networking is maturing, and users are no longer lambs to the slaughter of these shitty apps, and Facebook won't stand for them either.

Author complains about the lack of virality and acknowledges that many of the normal routes to virality are now cut off. Thank God. Let's be honest, when developers say "virality" they don't mean "something so interesting and cool that you must share it with everyone", they mean "something annoying, like that kid in class that stands up and shouts at people every 20 seconds".

Apps that offer actual social value to their users, who aren't 100% reliant on Facebook for user base, are fine. As are actual viral things - you know, stuff that's interesting and fun that encourages people to share (see: The Oatmeal's Facebook feed).

I for one am glad that parasitic apps are leaving the Facebook ecosystem. There's now more room for developers who offer real value to users. The thesis here seems to be "I can no longer be a parasitic bad actor in this ecosystem!", to which my response is "someone call the waaaaaahmbulance".

Give me a break. OpenFlights.org, a completely free open-source flight mapping tool, had a really popular Facebook app that a) let people post a map of their flights to their Facebook profile, and b) post updates on Facebook automatically when they flew somewhere -- not exactly spammy, parasitic or viral, just sharing info with friends. But merely keeping the FB app up and running consumed more support time than the (far more complicated) website itself, because the APIs changed all the bleeping time, and eventually in 2010 Facebook decided that letting people post apps they liked to their profile was Not Allowed(tm). So we gave up, and seeing what has happened in the three years since, I don't regret making that call one bit.


This is pretty much why I will never develop a facebook app after having worked at a company that develops apps for facebook. The push fast and break shit mentality is terrible for APIs. It's too much work, and the Mobile space has more opportunities.

Just the thought of having an app inside of an iframe is silly to be honest. It's not the way products are meant to be experienced.

On iOS or Android, you are in someone else's ecosystem, but at least your app takes control of the entire user interface. You cannot have that much control over the customer experience in the context of a facebook frame.

I am curious to know in what way have you felt that the Facebook way of rendering your app in an iframe restricts the user experience?

Your points are fair definitely, but for me as a developer the biggest issue with facebook was the constant breaking of 'old' APIs.

Worked on a facebook app for about 5 months, had to rewrite a significant portion of the UI when a breaking change happened about 3 months in. That one was ok, we learned our lesson and stayed on top of the roadmap of planned changes. However when with a couple weeks prior to release a new major breaking change was announced to be planned for about 6 months later, it was scary...

the consultancy didnt have an issue, they were ok with getting paid over and over to do the same thing, the end user accepted it, but personally i was just bored to death with the we will just keep reimplimenting this every 6-12 months.

The fact that you think your app is cool enough to beat the current competitive landscape in Facebook does not change the fact that the landscape is indeed more competitive.

The article is mostly right. Facebook is now a mature platform (not in a triple-X way). It's no longer the wild west, which is good in some aspects, bad on others.

It is, anyhow, much less the land of infinite opportunities it once was. Again, much like the Wild West.

I actually think it's less competitive than it was a couple of years ago. Many of the developers who were just making social games (Zynga, wooga, King.com) are now heavily focused on mobile titles.

If by mature you mean its just as likely to shit its pants and call you a harlot, as give you a cookie, like some 102 year old dementia patient, then yet I agree completely.

> I'm working on a thing right now that's integrated with Facebook, and I'm excited about it.

As someone who's done that sort of thing, and has had to support it for two years, I can only wish you the very best of luck.

I'll be curious whether your opinion changes in 6-24 months as your current hopes meet the realities of life with Facebook.

I'm not sure how much "social value" can be brought through Facebook apps these days. Let's all remember that the most popular Facebook apps by far are games. Additionally, I for one completely ignore all app notifications/requests, and I suspect most others have developed similar blindness. That means the apps won't spread regardless of how good they are (unless they break the TOS). Unless you pay FB through the nose for each and every user (almost certainly to the point of unprofitably), you are going to have a difficult time even having a chance to communicate your value proposition to potential users, much less acquire actual users. The Facebook platform is no longer a financially viable target for developers of any type of application, spammy or not.

I think part of the reason the most popular Facebook apps appear to be games (I'd need to look at stats but aren't news media type apps more prevalent?) is because Facebook has decimated the value proposition for more sophisticated applications. We ended up abandoning a startup product built on Facebook which was far more sophisticated and interesting than games in our opinion, but it just became clear that Facebook was actively taking off the table any possible commercial benefit of building on their platform. No significant virality to be gained - even if users WANT to share your product it's virtually impossible to do so nowadays as you don't know for sure it'll ever appear in anyone's feed; their Credits payment platform is daylight robbery at 30% for little better than payment processing.

I completely agree with you. It's just not viable.

If you get little to no customer acquisition benefit from building on their platform and they take too much revenue off the table, and if they keep changing things making it hard to remain stable, and it's hard to know if they'll arbitrarily shut you down if they decide you have a lucrative business proposition, why build on it.

I wonder if they suffer an internal lack of imagination as to what people might use their platform for, and therefore don't understand that they've rendered it worthless for many use cases where they could have been a real platform AND generated additional revenues.

The final issue I see is that if you build something innovative on their platform they have every data point they need to see if it's taking off and being successful - probably before you realize it. This means they can shut you down and buil da competitor, or make you a lowball aqui-hire offer with that threat.

Their haste to move quickly has, I think, caused them to make some strategic mistakes in platform strategy which have hurt their long term position as a platform. Of course, they may not care. They may have quietly, internally, abandoned such an aim, and decided they no longer genuinely want to be a platform on which others build sophisticated applications.

I have been working on the platform since 2008. Do not invest heavily on facebook's platform; you will find yourself spending tons of time updating to their latest toolkits every 6 months. You will find that your virality fluctuates wildly with every experiment they do. And you can only contact 5% of your fans. The thing is, you find that after some point your virality is limited with facebook, because facebook actively stops users who legitimately want to share your stuff from doing so.

With that said, apps can benefit from facebook's wide userbase and ease of use. It's a good user base for initial visibility, and for trying out new stuff until your app starts gaining traction on its own. Deep integration with the platform is something i will never do again.

Most developers think that their apps belong to the "something so interesting and cool that you must share it with everyone" category, I am sure you think that your app belongs to that category too.

The problem is that how many apps actually belong to that category? These are the apps on top of my head:

- instagram

- pinterest(sometimes, but, not always)

- what else?

Just go check out your Facebook feed, how many of those activities are actually generated by your favorite apps?


First thing that hit me when I visited the link was a huge newsletter overlay on top of the blog, with the blog grayed out in the background. I think that the blog author might be one of the people you mention (the "viral" kind) :)

This post is a BS strawman argument and should not be voted up, let alone the top comment.

Why developers are leaving blogs and websites that throw up popup windows like it's 1997:

Because it's incredibly irritating;

Because it interrupts you when you've just started to read;

Because the popup-tastic 90's are a time nobody wants to relive;

Because (in this case), closing the popup actually seemed to reset the scroll location too;

Because it can totally FU browsing on mobile; (but who cares about mobile anyway? We're supporting people from 1997 maaan!)

Because it's obnoxious.

I decided a few weeks ago that I would no longer read any sites, articles or blogs that do this. I am Jack's bounce rate.

Begging people to sign up to your email newsletter in the first few seconds on a page is a little reckless too. The only impression of the page isn't from their quality content, but that they want to spam me.

Here here. I also can't wait until more developers realize what a terrible UX fixed position UI pieces that follow you as you scroll are for mobile. They reduce viewing area and resize with pinch-zoom to take up even more space. JIRA and the tweet idea site posted yesterday are two examples that immediately come to mind.

Folks: if you want to have fixed UI elements, that's cool, but then please provide a mobile site version without them.

I close pop-ups by inspecting and removing the element, I have no desire to provide click feedback.

Sounds like you need to use Ghostery to nuke all those analytics scripts automatically.

For Firefox: "Remove it Permanently" (RIP) plug-in.

I also use it to nuke the more aggravating social, pandering, and similar sections of websites.

What irked me a bit was that I had scrolled down to keep reading, but the pop up forced me back to the top.

Yep. To me those kind of techniques are a warning bell telling me : this website is not worth visiting. I left immediately. If it's such a great essay, it will be repeated somehow, so I will not miss it. At the minima the comments here are usually enough if not more interesting.

Some marketing firm did a study on a client's website where they found that popups increased signups by a substantial amount. Unfortunately, that client was an Internet marketing blog primarily visited by aspiring marketers who've been told that popups increase signups by every popular Internet marketing blogger.

The author of the submission probably reads one or more of those blogs. A study outside that toxic echo chamber probably wouldn't get the same good results.

Why bloggers insist on using the awful lightbox/email signup/popup windows: because it converts better.

I concede it could be bad on developer focused sites. But I also have to believe they have tested it, and by their metrics they have more 'success' using popups than not.

(Don't get me wrong; I hate them too.)

From stupid people. I don't want the people who convert after that popup, they are the worst.

Apologies for the delay in responding, it's been a busy week.

I guess it depends on who you're building for. I've built for a non-technical audience, and wouldn't call them stupid just because they convert due a lightbox popup. Many of these folks want the emails I send, but wouldn't be able to find a more subtle signup.

In general, I try to help my users and not call them stupid.

+1 for Fight Club!

>Because (in this case), closing the popup actually seemed to reset the scroll location too

He doesn't stop propagation on the click event, which causes the # to be appended to the url and the scroll to reset to the top of the page. Basic jQuery, that.

Hi, I'm Doug Purdy, Director of Developer Products at Facebook. I wanted to weigh in here to explain how we think about some of these things.

Successful iOS and Android developers are integrating Facebook into their mobile apps. It's not an either/or equation. In fact, as of this month, more than 81% of the top 100 grossing iOS apps and 70% of the top 100 grossing Android apps integrate with Facebook.

All categories of developers continue to build with Facebook (fitness, books, music, games, etc.) with over 10 million apps and websites integrated with Facebook. Notably, games continues to be an extremely popular category – more than 250 million people play games on Facebook each month, and canvas installs have gone up 75% in the past year. Most of our games developers had record years in 2012, and over 100 of these developers made more than $1M in 2012 (in total, we paid out more than $2B to games developers in 2012).

With regard to Platform policies, for the small number of apps that violate our policies (replicate our functionality, fuel their app's growth at the expense of people's experience or expectations) we take action as needed. But for the vast majority of developers building great social apps, keep doing what you're doing.

Our goal is – and has always been – to give people a convenient way to login to apps, create personalized and social experiences, and let people share the things they care about through the apps they use.

I appreciate that you chose to respond here, as Dir Dev Prod, but your response just sounds like cut and paste PR boilerplate and appears a little tone deaf to the fairly reasonable points made and questions raised here about the risks/reward of the value proposition for developers using the platform.

So no response to the API quicksand complaints?

People spend a significant amount of their online time on your website. It's only natural that developers want to integrate with you. The point is what happens after they do that. Look at some of the complain threads here for pointers.

From strictly an engineering perspective, I stopped developing for FB a few years ago because their API was like quicksand that you stepped in by chance because your treasure map was so bad. It would change every week, it was buggy, poor or no documentation, different standards coming and going every week with no signal as to which one FB would settle on, and no warning when their changes would break things. Maybe things have improved since then, but I left that experience so scarred that I'm never touching their dev tools again.

I agree with you on that. The Facebook platform exceeded even Windows in the level of developer displeasure and brain damage from working with it.

Maybe Windows isn't that pleasant to work on, but not in any of the ways that he was describing. Windows has always had very stable APIs. The basic Win32 APIs have remained stable and constant for an insanely long period of time; there was plenty of churn in what was the recommended way to write an app (Win32 -> MFC -> .NET), but those are essentially higher levels and it seems that they've remained stable as well.

It seems like Windows RT is the first time they've actually broken backwards binary compatibility isn't it?

It seems like Windows RT is the first time they've actually broken backwards binary compatibility isn't it?

Very much not true. Early on, "DOS isn't done until Lotus won't run." They pulled the same trick several times against competitors, for instance Microsoft Word took dominance with Windows 95 because there was a period of 9 months where WordPress was not available on the new OS while Microsoft Word was.

This was one of the issues in Novell's 2004 lawsuit against Microsoft for anti-competitive behavior. The last I heard was an appeal filed late last year, see http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20121123221716522 for details. I do not think that the appeal has been decided yet.

There have been other, less nefarious, sources of breakage. For instance at one point Microsoft changed malloc() to try to assign recently deallocated memory if possible. The purpose is laudable - it is to push developers to notice and fix memory bugs. However, it naturally caused many programs that had been working to quickly crash. (Previously they would have run for much longer before crashing - long enough to be useful, but quickly enough to contribute to the perception that Microsoft software was buggy.)

Therefore Microsoft made a list of important programs that it knew would crash, and for those programs only gave them the old behavior. Many small companies did not make the list, and the result is that their programs wouldn't run after that upgrade.

Microsoft's behavior here was defensible (in fact I like it), but it was a deliberate incompatibility.

Oh, how delightful a slip. Run, the Internet is rotting your brain!

btilly surely meant WordPerfect, not WordPress.

Oops, you are right.

Therefore Microsoft made a list of important programs that it knew would crash, and for those programs only gave them the old behavior. Many small companies did not make the list, and the result is that their programs wouldn't run after that upgrade.

In fact, I just ran across an old fax from one of the Windows 95 devs, telling me how they planned to patch Windows to work around a bug in my middleware library that didn't show up until people started running their apps in Windows 95 DOS boxes, and asking for my opinion.

That was a far cry from the "DOS isn't done 'til Lotus won't run" behavior that the company was previously known for, and also a long way from their later behavior with Vista ("They bought their tickets, let them crash.")

Suffice it to say that Novell's experience was rather different than yours. It all depends on whether Microsoft saw you as a competitive threat.

I've written Windows software in C++ for more than 10 years, and I've compiled as recently as 6 months ago software that was written in the early 1990's, and that would compile and run unmodified on today's OS's. Show me one platform (or library even) that has that sort of backward compatibility.

There is a lot to be said about developing for Windows, but not being backwards compatible for sure is not one of those things.

I've written Windows software in C++ for more than 10 years, and I've compiled as recently as 6 months ago software that was written in the early 1990's, and that would compile and run unmodified on today's OS's. Show me one platform (or library even) that has that sort of backward compatibility.

Challenge accepted.

IBM shipped the first iteration of the System/360 in 1966. They have maintained, with minor caveats, backwards application compatibility with that version to the present across their various mainframe lines.

As an example of such a caveat, in 1995 the AS400 line underwent the 48-bit to 64-bit transition. If your executable was "observable", meaning it had debugging information, the first time you ran in 64-bit mode IBM would recompile it under the hood and your software would then run in 64-bit mode. If you had no source and no debugging information in your executable, you were out of luck until you got a new executable. Most customers experienced no issues.

But..mainframes? Who uses those? A lot of people, it turns out. A 2005 estimate said that globally 90% of financial transactions ran through COBOL. There is no reason to believe that this figure is significantly reduced today. The core of most of that COBOL code is decades old, and the customers are locked to IBM's platform because nobody can afford the cost or risk of a rewrite. But machines need to be replaced. Therefore IBM's customers still collectively cough up an average of something like $1 billion/month on new mainframe hardware.

> Many small companies did not make the list, and the result is that their programs wouldn't run after that upgrade.

I've been developing a programmer’s editor for every version of Windows since 3.0 and can honestly say I never notice any of these issues with newer versions of Windows.

I can safely say the crashes I witnessed where all of my own making.

Windows RT didn't break any compatibility because Windows RT was built on the ARM hardware platform. Win32 was just a software platform on Intel's hardware platform and won't work on ARM's hardware.

I think I meant to write WinRT instead of Windows RT. My understanding is that Windows RT is the new ARM-based Windows OS, but WinRT is a new set of system calls which replace the old Win32 APIs. Am I mistaken in this?

Yes. The Windows-Intel platform is fully backwards compatible back to Windows 3.1 with 32-bit.

You probably haven't worked with Windows development.

I agree. The amount of maintenance to fix bugs created by FB is insane.

Developers are leaving Facebook platform because people are sick of third party apps on Facebook. When I visited my dad, I spent an hour getting rid of all the spammy apps that were clogging his newsfeed. There is little value provided by those apps to most people I know.

And as for Facebook itself , I have spent thousands of dollars buying stuff online -- books, bags , h/w , s/w,etc., and yet when I login to Facebook, I am greeted with ads for match.com ads or other dating sites. Note to Facebook: there is no point showing dating ads to people who are searching for deals on Graco , Lego and miscellaneous school supplies.

Yeah, that. It's utterly shocking how poorly-targeted Facebook's ads are. Also how poor-quality. This is one of the wealthiest webapps in the world, has a nightmarish amount of personal information about us... and yet the ads seem to be bad scams or generic hook-up stuff.

That the ads are poorly targeted largely depends on the entity buying the ad. When building an ad on Facebook, the customer sets their targets. Facebook will gladly sell an advertiser eyeballs, but it's up to the advertiser to choose the "right" eyeballs.

That is a shallow dissection of the problem. It may be that advertisers are poorly targeting their ads, true. That, in turn, may be deliberate or a result of poor targeting tools. In any case, it is resulting in a problem for users (and maybe also for advertisers).

If you argue that poor targeting is deliberate, then FB is prioritizing advertisers at the expense of users. If it is the result of poor targeting tools, then it is just bad for all parties (including, ultimately, Facebook itself).

Anyhow, the problem is there and is clearly visible.

But having poorly targeted ads very certainly delutes the brand value of Facebook ads. I feel like Facebook should be involved in making sure their ads are well targeted, because frankly, the more spammy ads I get (I got an ad for a bail bonds company last week?) the less I want to use FB and the less I admire their brand.

If that's the case, then what's the benefit of advertising on Facebook? Isn't their main selling point that they can use their data about people to target ads? If they're just doing what the advertisers say, then what's the point? I guess it gets ads in front of people, but it seems they could charge more and have better results if they leveraged their data a bit.

The point is it's on the ad publisher to target intelligently. If they run their ad to "Males 18-35" that's their problem.

And my point is that it makes no sense for the ad publisher to target intelligently because Facebook has all the user data that can be used for targeting.

In other words, I think Facebook should be selling advertisers a higher level service than broad demographics.

Theoretically, I should be able to go to Facebook and say, "Here's my product, help me target my advertisements." Then Facebook looks through its data to see who "Likes" similar products or has searched for similar things or whatever, then figures out a target group based on that, and lets me advertise to them.

To be honest, though, I block the ads on Facebook anyway, so I'm not too concerned about it

The issue is that they have to have more data than rough demographics. They could take the likes a person has, break them down in rough categories and do something like males 18-35 who like heavy metal and extreme sports. Then they'd get ads accordingly. Google gets this. If I start to search for things, they will follow me around.

I would think that access to the majority of a person's communication with other people would give even more targeted ads.

From what I understand, it's not possible to target with the AND operator for multiple interests/likes, only the default BOOLEAN OR.

SO, you can't target males 18-35 who like heavy metal and extreme sports.

You can only target males 18-35 who like heavy metal OR extreme sports.

Subtle, but very results changing difference.

I hope I'm wrong on this point. Does anyone know how to do it?

Not really. If my Google ad doesn't get good responses Google replaces it with something that users like.

If I insist on targeting the wrong crowd it gets very expensive.

That's why Google ads suck less.

If poorly-targeted, low quality ads predominate, it's an indication of insufficient demand from advertisers whose precise targeting, high-value product and/or big brand budget would enable them to pay more per impression or click than ad-funded dating sites and games.

Most ads are bad, even google doesn't get it most of the time.

But the single worst thing about facebooks ads is that you can't dislike them. I don't get why as marketeers would love that kind of feedback, as would facebook.

But I suspect the real reason is that any really good offer wouldn't need to be send out as and ad but would be shared organically.

It took you an hour to click "Remove App" n times?

Depends largely on "n" I guess. And maybe the process involves understanding what the apps do, so he doesn't remove apps that his dad wants.

It also depends on the quality of his dad's internet connection, and how far he had to scroll to get all the apps he wanted to. Various FaceBook pages, such as the news feed, are amazing resource hogs.

He left out an important reason: That Facebook can and will ban apps at will, regardless of whether or not they have actually done anything wrong. IMO, that's probably where the "uninvestable" comment mentioned in the article came from. If you have to wake up every morning wondering if your app that had X million users last night is still alive, that's a big problem.

I know of apps that have been banned because malicious actors were using access tokens from those apps to do spammy things even though the app itself wasn't sending those requests. Facebook returns access tokens in the URL upon authorization, so the user is exposed to it and can use it for anything they want. Given nothing more than an app ID, any user can send spam posts and make it appear to have come from any app they choose. This includes Facebook-owned apps.

Do you think the same reason applies for iOS apps, given that the same is true there? I suspect investors (and people running startups) are willing to tolerate a lot of risk if they feel the upside is big enough.

Actually, Apple isn't nearly as troublesome as Facebook is when it comes to banning. They have a clearly defined re-submission policy, which Facebook does not. In many instances Facebook will ban both the app and the account behind it, and they don't have staff to respond to appeals in a timely manner.

You are correct, unfortunately there have been times when an app banned by Apple can't be resubmitted because removing the content Apple dislikes would destroy the functionality or purpose of that app.

This is mot a dig at Apple - iOS is their garden and they may do as they wish - but a general reminder that risk assessment is necessary when you build your business on top of anybody else's stack (be it Twitter, FB, Apple, Google or Amazon).

cough AppGratis cough

I couldn't read the article. i'm on my mobile and in most cases modal windows make the page unresponsive. People really need to stop using modal windows in this way if they want to keep their audience. /endrant

Nor could I highlight to read without some share widget popping up. Come on, man!

Soon we'll have to browse the web like RMS: http://article.gmane.org/gmane.os.openbsd.misc/134979

Yeah! I am in the nasty habit of highlighting parts of the text which I'm reading, and it keeps showing me the share widget - very frustrating. I couldn't figure out why the share widget contains "Evernote and Email" options. Sounds like the author got hold of a template, and hasn't changed it since.

I thought it was NoScript or Ghostery that made the site look like crap. After enabling temporarily one by one the blocked JS, it's still looking like crap!

"Move fast and break things" is a fucking terrible philosophy in a team that is building a "platform" for other companies to use. Its no wonder that even the features that are still "supported" never fucking work properly, if the developers writing the code know their little piece of the Shit Pie will be removed or replaced in a short time frame anyway.

This is by far the most annoying aspect to me. The API constantly shifts with or without an email from Facebook, which means you're lucky to find any resource online that's up to date— including the API docs themselves.

The Facebook API is, by far, the worst API I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with. I'm not sure whose API would be second, but it would be a very distant second. They don't follow any kind of versioning, randomly remove or break existing features, don't respond to bug reports, and have absolutely horrid documentation.

If working at Facebook on the Facebook.com codebase is anything like working with their API, it's a wonder anyone would want to work there.

If the FB API is your worst then consider yourself lucky. At least when the FB API has breaking changes they're usually a simple fix. Try working with a poorly documented SOAP API with a giant WSDL or a financial service's custom API that doesn't follow any conventions. There are far worse out there.

Except when they aren't.

Last major one that bit me was some functionality just stopped working - when you made requests to the URI they provided (that had worked before) in the docs, doing exactly what they said, you get an error.

Now you're thinking, the error will help you solve it.

What do you do when their documentation tells you to use a URI, and you get a 404 error? I don't mean once for a short time. I mean, one day it just stops working and gives 404 errors, for weeks and weeks. Open tickets, with no response from support.

A lot of large corporations are like this. It seems that the larger an organization gets, the worse their API docs get. For example, look at the QuickBooks API by Intuit, or FedEx's Web Services API.

Years have gone by and the mention of "Fedex" and "API" in the same sentence still makes me cringe. What a horrible, horrible experience...

Same problem for me. I put up a small web app that used their API. The only thing it did on my side was grab the Facebook user ID of the person. It broke, then broke again, and then again. Eventually I gave up and ripped the Facebook component of the app out and had people go straight to my web page.

Most of what was written here is true of all platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, iOS and Android.

- In the beginning, there are few rules and so it's the wild west. Developers see what they can get away with.

- As time goes on, platforms look at what uses of it pose a key threat to their core product (e.g. social graph, twitter client, payment platform, third-party engines, etc.) Those threats will be extinguished. Developers dependent on those key threats will be burned as they get shut down.

- Ad rates when the market is empty will always be cheaper than when the market becomes crowded.

- Competition makes it harder for smaller devs to survive. Remember the days when you could be an indie developer and have a chance at succeeding on iOS? Now all the big guys chart and the small guys don't make squat.

- The part about mobile is true but this is affecting ALL web platforms, not just FB.

Yes, Supercell got a huge investment but they are the exception, not the rule. They are the "Zynga of iOS" if you will (in the context of success/investment). The question is whether we'll see more of these kind of investments. Given that games is a hits-based business, I'm guessing it'll still be pretty rare.

Some of that is only true with closed and proprietary platforms. The over-crowding issue is true on all platforms. Other that that though, these aren't really true with Android apps (as far as I know), or firefox plugins.

I think the problem is bigger:

All the big platform websites readjusted their strategy back to become destination sites.

All what we notice (eg less impact even during new-feature-landgrabs) is just a symptom of this.

eg: Twitter, Facebook, even Google (see search api), etc etc

All started out as platforms. Now all of them focus rather on monetization on-site.

I remember a talk of a facebook engineer who said once "facebook.com is just one of the many websites on the fb platform - it is of minor importance - the platform is the social layer of the internet".

Back then I personally assumed their main revenue channel will become micropayments (which would go align with the platform strategy). But it didn't happen and i couldn't imagine hearing a similar quote anymore today.

That wasn't an engineer: it was Chris Cox, who is VP of Product. (Though he started as an engineer.) This is actually a very insightful interview about how the leaders Facebook think about the company's strategy.


It seems that the correct wording is 'Thought' not 'Think'. Time changes.

In what way has this strategy changed?

I think it's timing. You probably could have said the same thing about Google before they launched Adsense.

There's nothing stopping Facebook from building a platform to run ads across the web. My guess is they've discovered the web doesn't yet have enough social context to sustain the kind of ads they want to provide. (Instead, they end up feeling like creepy hyper-personalized banner ads.)

Because FB.com is about exclusively people (and brands to a degree) it's a suitable environment to show ads or sponsored content based on social behavior. FB is the social fabric for the web, but people still feel it all lives on their website.

Quickest way to change this might be to try to own the experience enclosure. (Build a browser, mobile OS, etc.)

Personal opinion is facebook has definitely over the last couple years realized they have monetize facebook.com itself to a large degree. Probably fb execs still as far as long term strategy view the 'platform' is king and not the website but it appears the length of the 'long term' has significantly stretched, and they realize they need to focus on monetizing the website for the next few years at least.

This is all conjecture on my part, no facts to back it up, but just pointing out its common for a business to 'think' XYZ is the monetization solution, and then after time and effort come to realize they have to pivot to another direction.

Fundamentally I think a lot of these 'platform' offerings have come to realize they cannot actually monetize the platform at the scale they would like, and have as a result made the business decision to monetize their 'application'/'website'. Twitter, google, facebook, etc this is becoming quite a common phenomenon. In fact the most stable platforms appear to either be outside of the direct control of a single for profit entity, or else an 'add on' feature of a entity highly profitable from another vector. If apple was dependent on the app store for the majority of their profit, I think we would see them having to do an about face, instead the availability of the app store is a 'feature' but their profits come elsewhere so they have freedom to let it operate as a platform.

I swore that I would never make a Facebook app 2 years ago when Facebook broke my app without any reason or explanation 3 times.

Check out the bug tracking system on their developer portal, there are tons of bugs which they just ignore.

I've personally experienced that, even with extremely minor integration. I wanted for people to "like" my blog posts on my scratch-built blog. There had been an outstanding style issue with their buttons a year before I implemented it. Finally, after my last round of trying to fix it(after having my blog just look subpar for 2 years), I checked the bug. Apparently they "fixed" it, followed by tons of people commenting and say nothing was changed.

So, I switched to twitter "tweet" buttons. Integration took my about 30 minutes. No style issues either. I'm not saying I trust Twitter more, they've had some crap API problems recently as well... but I'm just saying I don't trust Facebook, not for a second.

Where are the numbers to support that developers are in fact leaving?

Just because a few VCs in SV aren't investing in Facebook based startups, doesn't mean developers/startups are leaving in droves.

Agreed - yet another article on HN that's all hearsay and uses no data to back it up

(I actually love HN, but this trend, especially among a group that's supposed to be very technical, is often disheartening)

Is there anyway to turn off the share buttons when highlighting text? I like to highlight text when I read, and the share buttons coming up makes the article unreadable. I'm probably the exception here, but that is really frustrating.

into your ad-blocker config kills it.

It is a naive dream to think that there is a symbiotic partnership with Facebook. The power relations are evident and a Facebook app developer is at the bottom of the food chain.

It is also obvious that you never can rely solely on a 3rd party (without explicit contracts) to build your business on. [Unless you can make a lot of money very quickly but than you can as well go to Las Vegas.]

There is just too much wishful thinking. It is not that Facebook, Google or Apple is evil. It is ultimately about the interests and when there are confrontations you have to hold the right cards in your hands. Begging is not really a good business option.

David Weekly has a tough road ahead of him as the new Developer Program liaison at facebook.

This article seems to focus more on canvas apps, rather than offsite apps (which is what I see more of these days). Andrew is right on most of these points, my company used to build tons of bespoke facebook apps for people, not anymore. Seems like wildfire cashed out at the right time.

Because FB are privacy disrespecting? That's a good enough reason to leave it for developers and users alike.

Many users are also "once bitten, twice shy" about using facebook apps at all. A lot of people have trouble telling the difference between a simple facebook oauth login and a full-fledged spammy app, and are reluctant to use the former for fear that it will turn out to be the latter.

FYI: That newsletter popup is really annoying. I only clicked through because it's a top post on HN.

I am glad to read this because it validates so much of the trends I've been seeing over the last two years. More and more people are starting to realize that there's a need for an alternative to the Facebook Platform. This article is just the latest of many realizing that there's a big demand for developer-friendly platforms that get it right.

In my opinion, it can be done way better completely outside of facebook, and you get to own your own users. I am going to write an article actually about this, and post it here.

For now: http://myownstream.com/blog#2011-05-21

I think it's hard to argue with a lot of the points he raises. Certainly the 'lack of virility' is an issue and it's much harder to get significant gains now without resorting to a few hacks. The most concerning point I think has to be the case where Facebook denies advertising to competing products. That would suck if it happened!!!

Again hard to argue with many of the points raised, but with that said I think there's still opportunity - just not the same as before where the likes of Zynga and iLike were able to get shed loads of traffic for virtually nothing.

Something seems off about the premise of the article, and I think it's that you should start developing with a platform in mind at all. If you want to actually build a business, wouldn't it be better to start with a problem and figure out how to solve that, and then the platform is just a distribution channel you use to get your solution in front of the users who need it. Choice of a platform falls out of where the users who have your problem tend to spend most of their time.

I think an overarching issue is that the goals of FB developers are different from the goals of FB itself.

As a result, FB is keenly focused on keeping its feed and request channels relevant and trimmed down, while developers would rather use the channel to blast as many people as possible. That's also why Facebook is fine with breaking stuff for its developers if it makes the customer experience better.

Interesting essay overall, but I don't think 'arbitrage' means what you think, in " and arbitrage it against their virtual goods or ecommerce businesses."

Unless, maybe, there were somehow middlemen buying facebook ads and then reselling them to someone else, that's not 'arbitrage' (and even then, questionable).

I definitely found the usage of the term arbitrage to be unusual, but it did logically make sense to use it in this way. I wasn't sure if the author was creatively using arbitrage in this way, or if the term already was being used in certain circles with this connotation.

Guess I am so used to seeing word repurposed (especially nouns being verbified and vice versa) that i just filed this away in the 'maybe' this is what the marketing kids are saying now a days

Are you saying to you it logically makes sense to use the word 'arbitrage' for anything involving making a profit, or making an expenditure that is cost effective? Really? Or something else?

Me, I'd like to defend the notion that words actually mean something, and using big words because they make you sound cool, without paying any attention to what they mean, makes you a less effective communicator. Even if everybody else is doing it too.

I have seen an increase in Facebook platform integration. From small businesses looking to get an advantage over the competition. Its no longer about some social media app. Now its about Mary's Pizza, and how they want to spam the feed of their clients whenever they order. It works.

I like the potential of facebook apps.

Did this a while back


I would be perfectly fine paying for access to their app platform if it would give me a more stable environment and allow me to access a few things I can't access right now.

I was working on the social integration on a project. The hell that the backend coder and I went trying to make work the js sdk for facebook was just stupid. We ended using a python lib for facebook integration. A real shame such a big company releasing a crappy sdk.

This post inspired me to write about our platform, which addresses this exact issue. If you're fed up with facebook platform, you might enjoy the read:


There's really just one major reason - people used facebook API to get access to people's contacts but now mobile apps can do the same thing simply by crawling people's contacts list. This obviates the need for apps to play within Facebook's rules.

They're leaving the Facebook platform, because Facebook wasn't a platform up until very recently. It was a communal toilet of shoddy, spammy apps that did add any value to the experience or the brand. Good riddance!

Whoops, site looks down for me. In the meantime, here's a gist with the blog post text in it: https://gist.github.com/nbashaw/5437100

"a lot has evolved" for "a lot has changed" - faux-smart business english?

>platform companies like Facebook, iOS, Android

I stopped reading right there.

I feel facebook has become less "cool" and more "commodity". it is still a great place, but its best growth is over.

Where is the mention of the users?

Most people I know, myself included, barely tolerate facebook. Facebook is quickly becoming the platform of the middle-aged mom (because middle-aged dad is often lacking computer literacy skills) who wants to repost image macros that we've all seen on reddit three months ago.

From the user perspective, Facebook just isn't a pleasant experience any more.

Why I am leaving this website: A popover asking me to sign up for your newsletter.

meh....some of us never started getting in to the facebook platform :)

Thanks Andrew, nice article. Finally someone writes something about the facts.

Good read!

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