Facebook Attempts to Resuscitate Tarnished App Platform

When the recent Facebook redesign relegated applications to a tab instead of the front user profile, some declared that they were giving up on the Platform. This week Facebook launched it’s Application Verification Program. Qualifying applications get a special badge indicating that it has been reviewed by Facebook, increased limits for requests and emails, and increased news feed visibility. For this, an app must pass their Guiding Priciples for Social Applications, and submit $375 for an approval good for one year. The principles are somewhat vague but basically common sense: be meaningful and/or interesting, don’t be spammy, buggy, or ugly.

Is this an attempt at monetization beyond advertising? TechCrunch’s Arrington calls it a “protection racket” and includes a picture from The Godfather in his post. In my opinion, this is a reasonable move to help solve the problem of distrust in Facebook applications. However, I believe that the distrust could have been largely prevented had Facebook been more conservative with the platform launch.

In Fall 2007, developer enthusiasm for the Facebook Platform was at a fever pitch. At the first Facebook Developer Garage in Vancouver, we had to turn people away after filling the theatre and then some. Enthusiastic developers shared their new creations, and we all revelled in the huge potential of the platform. But by Winter, Facebook app fatigue was setting in hard. Shady developers had exploited any weakness possible to gain users; some tricked users into sending invites out to their entire friends list. Users had become annoyed by spammy apps to the point that they didn’t trust them. The reputation of the platform was tarnished hard.

Over this same time period, Apple and Google have launched platforms that have maintained and built good reputation. Third party iPhone apps must pass Apple’s approval, and are limited in what aspects of the phone they can access. If they attempt to overstep their bounds, the phone will kill the process. While developers complain about the restrictions and the approval process, iPhone users can rest assured that no app will harm their phone or compromise their security. Google App Engine launched in beta with very tight restrictions on CPU usage, data storage, ability to send outbound email, and number of people accepted into the beta. They’ve increased the limits over time as the platform has proved stable and secure.

Looking back at the progression of the Facebook Platform, they took a big chance in opening major site functionality to third party developers. Unfortunately it backfired when they didn’t act as a strong enough gatekeeper to their service. The platform isn’t dead, but developers now need to try extra hard to win over users. The Verification Program is a good step, but if Facebook is serious about the platform, they’ll have to prove it stronger.