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Summary:

UPDATED: Last week, Facebook and Skype launched a new video calling application, hosted at facebook.com/videocalling. But Samuday Web Technologies says it was at that domain first. Samuday now says its video chat app was unceremoniously kicked off of Facebook to make way for the new Skype feature.

Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny depicted in the 1872 painting "American Progress"

Updated. With a healthy dose of fanfare, last week Facebook teamed up with Skype  to launch a new video-calling application, hosted at facebook.com/videocalling. But now a company called Samuday Web Technologies says it had that domain first — and Samuday’s CEO says that his company’s video chat app was unceremoniously kicked off Facebook in a modern-day case of Manifest Destiny, so that Facebook could clear the way for its own feature.

According to Nimit Kumar, his company’s uniRow video-calling application ran within Facebook at the facebook.com/videocalling URL starting in December of 2010. The app was moderately successful, although not hugely popular: Kumar says that it amassed 22,000 users, more than a third of whom were active, and the app managed to attract 4,500 likes and an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

But on April 7, Samuday’s video-calling app was deleted by Facebook without any warning whatsoever, Kumar says. The company immediately reached out to Facebook to try to understand why the action was taken, and received a vague form letter about how the app violated Facebook’s policies. Since the uniRow video-calling app for Facebook was the work of two developers, and Samuday has a host of other products, the company eventually decided against working on a relaunch.

But when Facebook launched its own video app at uniRow’s old URL last week, Kumar became suspicious about the reason his app was really kicked off of the platform. He wrote in a blog entry posted on July 8:

The question to ask is what happened around April 7th (exactly 3 months before the launch of Facebook-Skype Video Calling). It is clear that when the plan for rolling out their application was decided, Facebook wanted to use the phrase “Video Calling” and therefore wanted the URL. Instead of communicating this to the page (and application) owners, it went ahead and disabled the application. This is grossly undemocratic and probably illegal (we are looking into this aspect). We tried our best to get the application reinstated, but did not succeed.

In an email, Kumar told me that he is discussing the possibility of legal action with several lawyers: “They have been supportive thus far, but being a young (bootstrapped) startup, we are short of resources.” Samuday has not had any contact with Facebook since the Skype video-calling app launched, he said.

This is not the only time Facebook has gotten on a developer’s bad side. The company caught a lot of flack last month when it enacted a new spam-control policy that apparently cut a number of legitimate applications. But Facebook seems keen to make amends for its mistakes: The social networking company responded swiftly to the spam control outcry, and recently rolled out a softened policy reflecting that it had indeed heard the developer community’s complaints. But it’s difficult to see exactly how Facebook could make it up to Samuday, since the company’s former URL is taken up by Facebook’s own blockbuster app.

I’ve reached out to Facebook’s policy head Barry Schnitt for comment on Samuday’s claims, and he said in an email that his team is looking into the issue. I’ll update this post with any response we receive.

Update: A Facebook spokesperson emailed Wednesday morning with the following statement: “The app was disabled by an automated system for a policy violation that was not related to the URL of the app. The developer’s appeal was manually reviewed; the violation was confirmed, and the appeal was denied. Two months after the initial disabling of the app, Facebook acquired the URL.”

Image of John Gast’s depiction of Manifest Destiny from the 1872 painting “American Progress” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

  1. Wow! Thats super bad on facebook’s part. I hope they get sued for this.

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  2. That painting is called “American Progress”

    source: http://picturinghistory.gc.cuny.edu/item.php?item_id=180

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    1. Colleen Taylor Tuesday, July 12, 2011

      Thanks, Scott! The correct title has been added.

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      1. No worries. Btw solid choice for article art!

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  3. Who gets to run the company? The principles or a community consensus in some San Francisco neighborhood?

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  4. Facebook is like paypal– they have a history of unethical behavior. I am only surprised that anyone trusts them and is surprised when they violate their own agreement. Offering an app platform, under the condition that you don’t violate the terms, and then pulling the app with a dishonest claim that you’re violating the terms is FRAUD. It is not just unethical, it is a crime. It is inducing one party to part with something of value- development effort- based on promises that are not kept to by the other party.

    Zuckerberg belongs in jail, for this and many other reasons.

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  5. They also deleted my Video Chat app a week before they announced their new service. I had about 500,000 likes and 4.5+ stars. They only gave me vague reasons as to why and denied my appeal.

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  6. That painting is called “American Progress”.

    Source: http://picturinghistory.gc.cuny.edu/item.php?item_id=180

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  7. I feel kind of bad for the guys whose app got dumped, but… That headline is SERIOUSLY misleading. Facebook didn’t “hijack a developer’s app” at all, they terminated the use of a URL under their domain so they could use it for their own video chat app. Maybe not so “nice” but not even remotely illegal (read the Facebook developer contracts) and besides, no one gets to 750 million users by being “nice.” Sorry, but anyone who doesn’t expect and plan for this kind of thing is just a moron.

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    1. Rightly said, the app was not hijacked. Also as venky mentioned in the below comment (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2756284.) the vanity url was claimed after 3 months of not being reclaimed by the original developer. People jump to conclusion real fast when big names are involved:-)

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      1. Vanity URL? why – they have been using it for long time – isn’t that the case?

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  8. This is what you get when you build your company on the platform of another…

    It is a flawed business strategy and they will have essential zero legal standing here.

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  9. Hence the reason you cannot rely on the pedistle of another for entrepreneurship. A.K.A. self-reliance.

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  10. Here’s a response a Facebook employee made on a Hacker News thread about this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2756284.

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    1. Thanks Colleen for sharing our concern. Our objective has never been to pass a judgement, but to state the facts and let users decide for themselves.

      The points mentioned in the Hacker News are interesting and we have responded here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2757724

      Best, Nimit

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      1. It seems the HN article is still under moderation. Here is my response:

        We do not doubt the hard work put in by Facebook employees and the talent of their engineers. You have done a fabulous job in making Facebook and scaling to a massive user base. We love to use Facebook and are more than happy to acknowledge it.
        The point we are discussing is about the policy implementation and its consistency. First of all it is not new for Facebook to take away someone else’s URL. See this post from early 2010 – http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/23/facebook-vanity-url-harman/ . Clearly the argument you have around “If we wanted it for our own use, we would have been up-front about that” does not hold much to the test of history.
        Second, the work on Facebook-Skype integration seems to have started around November, 2010 – http://blog.greenanysite.com/index.php/2010/11/facebook-vide…. We all know software product life-cycles and how marketing pages are made/thought. Let’s not discuss how that works.
        Coming to specifics on this application disabling. Here are some facts to clear the air: 1. In sending Video Calling Invitations, we were not doing anything different from the following applications: Video Chat Rounds, Tiny Chat, vChatter. 2. When we exchanged some emails with the Facebook representative, we highlighted the fact that we being singled out when there were bunch of other apps having much worse policy implementations. 3. After three months of our reporting this, these apps are still functional. This demonstrates Facebook indeed had a vested interest in disabling our application. 4. Why would Facebook recommend developers to relaunch their application at a different URL when the application is known to be spammy.
        There is no point trying to defend an error, which may have happened in ignorance or in intent. Nor is my intention to prove anything. We have merely stated the facts and it is for people to decide. We have moved on from this incident and as an organization we have far more important aspirations than to worry about a Facebook application.
        I am responding to this, as I believe it is only fair to put the entire perspective in place.

        Best, Nimit

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  11. “Probably illegal”?
    Don’t be a fool, the domain belongs to Facebook, they can do whatever they want with it.
    Deal with it!

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  12. NOOO REACH OUT Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Why oh why oh why do so many people mindlessly and instantly copy the latest dumb phrases, in this case, the totally gratuitous and totally WRONG use of the words “reach out”, which so many people (Americans) are using nowadays. No, it’s not the indiputably incorrect and very cringeworthy “reach out” you morons, it’s some variation on “contact”. You call yourselves writers, but can’t use the language correctly, as with the thankfully less-used nowadays “experience”, also used gratuitously and wrongly for just about everything for too long, and then the variations on “love” for things and activities which definitely don’t need any association with that word. And etc. OK, I’ll stop now, I need to vomit.

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