Facebook Does Not Heart Developers

Mark Hendrickson just posted about a seemingly minor but incredibly important aspect of the new Facebook developer platform.  From TechCrunch:

Starting July 15 (and perhaps coinciding with the rollout of Facebook’s new site design), users will no longer see an installation screen (see below) when they access an application for the first time. Rather, they will see a new “login” screen that simply asks them whether they want to permit the application access to their information. This simply grants the application temporary access to your data so it can operate, without establishing any real footprint on your Facebook experience.

All I can say is wow.  With all of the recent changes to reduce the spamminess of Facebook apps, it’s been harder and harder for independent developers to get access to the same viral “magic formula” that launched so many of the early apps and created the gold rush mentality around the platform.  Now, not only are they greatly reducing yet another viral channel for app developers, they are also grandfathering in existing applications, which means the big guys will keep getting bigger, and the little guys are at a serious disadvantage. 

As someone who works on the breadth developer strategy at Microsoft, I know firsthand the importance of creating a healthy developer ecosystem with a good mix of the new, smaller software companies and larger, established ones.  With this move, Facebook is essentially cutting off the oxygen supply to the broad base of developers.  This will likely not make an immediate impact to the platform, but once they start to see the erosion taking place, their bread-and-butter breadth developers will have moved on to a platform that gives them a better shot at making some real revenue.

Imagine if the NBA suddenly decided that the rookies in the league were causing too many problems, so to fix the problem, they stopped the draft.  The short term impact would be minor.  But long term?  Disastrous. 

Of course, maybe Facebook simply decided that their core product is good enough without the add-on apps, and this is one way to slowly cut their losses and move towards an even more closed down system.  Or maybe they just don’t really understand the ripple effect that could happen to their developer ecosystem as a result of all these changes.  Hopefully these guys know what they’re doing, ’cause I’m a huge fan of the FB platform and really would hate to see it die a slow and painful death.

Update: Check out the uproar on the official FB dev forums…obviously I’m not the only one who thinks this is a bad idea…

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