Yesterday afternoon, PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie published a post titled Move fast, break things: The sad story of Platform, Facebook’s gigantic missed opportunity. The post outlined the lofty expectations and ultimate failures of the Facebook Platform. Central to Hamish’s piece was the thesis that a series of missteps by Facebook alienated developers and eventually pushed the platform into obscurity.
With the benefit of hindsight, I’d argue there were actually only three major mistakes that ended up dooming the Facebook Platform.
Lack of payments
Hamish mentions this, but I think the lack of payments across the platform was the source of many of its problems. With no seamless way to charge users for either “installs” themselves or “in-app purchases”, developers were forced to play the eyeball game and as a consequence were left clinging to the “viral loop”. Facebook Credits ended up being a non-starter and as the Zynga spat demonstrated, the 30% haircut was intractable. In a world where Facebook launched “card on file” style micropayments with the Platform, maybe we’d be exchanging “Facebook Credits” at Christmas.
No sponsored feed placements
Without on platform payments, developers were essentially left chasing Facebook’s “viral loop” to drive new users, eyeballs, and hopefully eventually revenues. Developers eventually started gaming the system, generating what users perceived as spam, and ultimately forcing Facebook to change notifications. I’d argue that had developers originally had some way to pay for sponsored feed placements they would have been less likely to chase virility. Along with the functionality to sponsor feed posts, Facebook undoubtedly would of ended up building rate limits and other spam fighting measures in order to protect the “sponsored post” product and ultimately helped the platform.
Everything tied to Connect
Even today, one of the most popular components of the Facebook Platform is the Connect single sign on piece. The problem was, and to some extent still is today, was that everything was tied to Connect. Even if you were just logging into a site with Connect, it still had access to your entire Facebook account. Facebook eventually fixed this, but it opened the floodgates of every site posting unwanted updates, breaching user trust, and hurting the credibility of the entire platform.
The PandoDaily piece has a deeper exploration of what drove the decline of the Facebook Platform but I think lack of payments, sponsored feed posts, and the tie in with Connect put the platform in a difficult position from day one.