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Facebook Developers Demand to Spam What's Wrong with This Picture?

Valleywag today published a letter from an anonymous Facebook platform developer complaining about the abusive limits Facebook is imposing on viral growth.

“Facebook just recently unceremoniously undercut the very thing that was driving the virality of most the initial applications, which is the ability of people to invite all their friends to an application,” the developer complains.

” [J]ust this week Facebook made a small tweak in this process that has had dramatic effects in stunting the potential viral growth of apps – they started preventing users from inviting more than 10 friends to the app in any given day…. The reason this pisses me and many other people I’ve been talking with over the past day or so off is because dozens if not hundreds of startups in the Valley who made a strategic decision to divert valuable resources over the past month to develop a Facebook app did so with the understanding that we would have access to the same viral tools that all the initial applications had access to.”

Valleywag, always in search of a pin to prick a bubble, is wrong to jump to the anonymous developer’s side by publishing the letter in full. This person is complaining about a good decision Facebook made to limit the abuses of its platform.

I spoke with RockYou co-founder and CTO Jia Shen last week about abuses of the application invite system, which I thought his apps were perpetrating. Up until the recent change, many outside developers practically forced new users to invite their entire friend list to install a new app before they could use it. That’s pretty sleazy, I contended. Shen said he agreed, but that he had to play the game to ensure viral growth. He said that Facebook would soon be limiting the invite system and he looked forward to it, but until then making full use of Facebook’s system was the only way to compete.

Sure, Shen can afford to be respectful of his Facebook users now that he’s got millions of them; RockYou has four of the top 25 Facebook apps. But I think he’s right. Facebook doesn’t owe it to developers to get them maximum exposure on its platform. The site could do a better job of exposing new and noteworthy apps; listing apps by most total installations has the result of driving even more users to the winners. However, the core viral features of the Facebook platform — seeing that a friend has added an app in your news feed, noticing cool widgets on friends’ profiles — are still there.

The point should be serving users, not developers.

13 Responses to “Facebook Developers Demand to Spam What's Wrong with This Picture?”

  1. With everyone now opening up their platforms, to bad there isn’t a way to make it like openid where everyone can create one thing and use it on all platforms

  2. I think this is a good move to block the mass invite functionality because it’s a haven for abuse and spam. Even as a business owner looking at Facebook right now, I hate spam as much as anyone else – this is 100% a good call.

    The user always comes first no matter at what cost, business owner or not. Spam sucks.

  3. even now there are still shady ways that applications are spamming me. i keep getting invites from users. for example, someone sent me a gift using the application ‘free gifts’ which is not made by facebook and it keeps asking me to sign up. i’ve had enough! i don’t need to be bothered. i’m there to focus on other more important aspects such as the main reason why social networks exist!

  4. John, you’re absolutely right to say facebook should have figured out that they should have limited spammy app invites from the beginning. And it’s true that they have been spammy themselves, playing the game on their own video app.

    The top apps do have ties to facebook but I think their success is not only due to them being some of the first and most spammily promoted, but also because they serve functions like top friends that facebook users wanted but weren’t getting.

  5. John Galt

    The developer on valleywag wasnt complaining that he couldnt spam users. What he was complaining about is how the early apps released on facebook were allowed the advantage of mass user invites and the newer apps are not. Is it a coincidence that a few of these early apps also share the same investors as facebook? Once the apps the facebook investors invested in got traction, they changed the rules of the game. There is a hustle going here. Just not sure what it is yet.

  6. I agree, Liz. Developers can be a very powerful asset to any platform. However, developers are often scrappy entrepreneurs and their interests may not always align with the overall interests of the ecosystem. At the end of the day, it is Facebook’s responsibility to manage this ecosystem of users and developers to enable long term balance.

  7. No discussion here of the fact that RockYou and Slide add 0 value to the world. It’s great to know that brilliant people like Max L. at Slide are dedicating themselves to such high minded pursuits like solving our need for the nth widget on Facebook. What would we do without him stealing away top engineers to solve such core problems that we face?