How Sociable is Facebook towards Developers?

If Facebook wants to be the social ‘platform’ on which the web resides – a grand vision, but an attainable one – it had better start being nicer to web developers.

For years, Facebook has been a taker, not a giver. What other platform begs you to feed information into it in the form of personal user data, communications, shared web content (and its corresponding metadata), provides proprietary mechanisms for you to identify your own independently-hosted web content to Facebook, and then refuses to let you feed anything out again except by using a tiny suite of ‘widget’ style, iframe-based pieces of javascript: unstylable, uncool, and uncooperative. God forbid you should try to scrape anything to create your own feeds from these stubborn widgets – or from anywhere else – lest you put your own Facebook account in jeopardy for violating their terms.

And should you ever try to interpret the meaning of anything that isn’t ‘being a friend’ – for example you need to engage users with your company – you really must let Facebook call the shots on these interactions, too. It was only a year ago Facebook decided you would rather “Like” an entity than “Become a fan” of it. And now – subscribe? Is that the same as like? Is it similar to what you do with an RSS feed? I don’t have a problem with the evolution of change, but it’s frustrating seeing businesses having to tweak their social media paradigm just because Facebook didn’t get it right first time.

Facebook has taken a lot of unfair flack in the last decade, mainly because of their refusal to be pigeonholed into either a platform for private data (e.g. email) or one for public data (e.g. blogs). Despite a number of iterations in its privacy interface (ranging from the bizarre/arcane to the really-quite-sensible), Facebook still struggles to convince its users that controlling the privacy of their data is not exactly rocket science. It was solely because of its popularity, and the fact it became lowest-common-denominator for personal communications online (read: “it attracted stupid people”) that Facebook suffered an exponential amount of bad press regarding its ‘security issues’. I shudder even writing those words, for one thing Facebook has not had major PR problems within its lifetime, at least as compared with any other social network you care to mention, is security – in the technical sense. It’s merely the media’s interpretation of the word I’m using here.

Of course, Facebook was absolutely right to keep strong tabs on its data and interface early-on. I’m sure it wasn’t as much a branding reason as the fact Zuckerberg didn’t want to get sucked in to the same issues MySpace did, where users were encouraged to ‘personalise’ their pages, ultimately resulting in a social network that was unusable for all.

But surely the time to open-out (I’m not talking about styling one’s profile page) came and went about three years ago? Instead, at this time, Facebook was buttoning-down its strategy so as to retain as much data as possible whilst making it slightly more interactive with the rest of the web. And so was launched the adoption of the “Social Graph” model.

I’m hoping that any changes taking place over the coming months may involve Facebook adopting an open standard. Not the kind of “open” mentioned in Zuckerberg’s blog post from a year ago, but a real kind of “open”.

Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *