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PE Hub talks to a disillusioned Facebook developer

July 23, 2008

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As Facebook’s developers conference kicks off on Wednesday, PE Hub’s Connie Loizos interviews Jason Holloway, cofounder and CEO of Face it!, a startup in Palo Alto that makes Facebook applications for corporate customers like Adidas.

Initially excited about Facebook opening its platform to developers, Holloway is now a bit less so.

Why are you frustrated with Facebook?The pendulum just feels like it has swung so far in the opposite direction [of where it was in May 2007] that it feels a little punitive. The restrictions they’ve put on viral growth are extreme.

How has Facebook clamped down on viral growth?

Basically, rather than enforcing rules against those who are developing applications in bad faith, Facebook has changed the rules for everyone.

I know that on Monday, Facebook introduced a makeover meant to hamper spammers, and that developers were sent new policies to “prevent applications from creating artificial or inappropriate incentives to use Facebook features.” Is that what you mean?

No, let me give you an example. We came up with a neat little application for project management, finishing up a version of the application for the Obama campaign on Friday. The idea of the application is to help groups plan, so part of it involves sending messages, like Facebook notifications, back and forth. But Facebook stops allowing you to send notifications after a certain amount of exchanges – so you can be in the middle of discussing or planning something and you can’t finish the conversation.

How many notifications is too many?

It depends on the application, but from 20 to 40, which is admittedly getting into spammy territory with some apps. But we try to make applications that are useful and beyond the ultrasupersimple Facebook apps that users are so well-acquainted with by now.

Well, I get why they’d want to cut off applications after a point. What about BreakUp, another application of yours that automatically informed someone when a “friend” on Facebook delists them. I read in TechCrunch earlier this year that they’d taken it down even though it didn’t violate Facebook’s terms of use.

That’s a utility we wrote because a couple of us were curious if anyone had removed us as friends. The friend information is there, of course, if you look through your own profile, but we thought we’d automate the process. But Facebook got upset about it after Michael Arrington wrote about it. In fact, they were very heavy handed about the whole thing. They said, “We turned off application, but let us know if you fix it.” They wanted both parties to have to agree with the application. So we fixed it, told Facebook, and asked if they could turn it back on again, and they just never responded.

Are they generally unresponsive?

No, they’re generally really good about being responsive. Tech support has been very helpful. A couple of times when they’ve accidentally shut off applications and we’ve contacted customer support, they’ve gotten up the application again in a day or so. For a company of their size, I think that’s pretty responsive.

Why not just focus on other social networks? There’s MySpace. Other companies are opening up their platforms, like Apple’s App Store and Google’s OpenSocial…

We’re considering other social networks. One reason we haven’t done it yet is that we’ve been big believers in Facebook’s platform.

So what would you like to see change?

Facebook responds with general rules when people do bad things, and they hurt everyone in the process. Everyone gets punished together. I’d like to see them create a class of developers that get special privileges. If they establish a trusted class, then there’s a lot for the developers in that class to lose. They aren’t going to violate its terms of service. It’d be consistent with Microsoft and other companies that provide a certification level that makes life easier for those behaving properly.

Click here to read the rest of the interview at PE Hub.

Comments
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It’s pretty clear why Holloway is upset over Facebook creating its own versions of applications developed by others. Facebook needs to follow its terms of service in order to avoid stifling creativity and growth among developers, whether they are in the corporate sector or still in the university. After all, Zuckerberg was in university himself when he created Facebook.

 

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