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.