Facebook attracts developers -- and controversy

Facebook offers developers generous revenue opportunities along with a fast-growing and deeply engaged community of people. However, this paradise is already getting soiled by self-promoting developers.

Joseph Aigboboh, co-founder of J-Squared Media, another Facebook developer, agreed. "Facebook has created an opportunity to build literally any product and spread it virally to achieve unprecedented rates of growth and retention. This means that with a relatively cheap budget, companies can build lucrative products and services [and] drive revenue," he wrote in an e-mail.

It's no surprise then that some developers have been overeager in their attempts to boost adoption of their applications and generate revenue, while looking for ways to bend the rules.

This week, Dave Morin, Facebook's senior platform manager, addressed the concerns about annoying and abusive applications in an official blog posting, and announced steps have already been taken, with more coming.

Facebook wants the popularity of applications determined by how useful and entertaining they are. Thus, it's shifting how it measures application popularity in its applications directory away from total users and toward user engagement, he wrote.

Vowing to protect members' experiences on the site, he said the latest release of the Facebook Markup Language -- version 1.1 -- changes how profile boxes display content, removing applications' ability to display profile content to visitors and hide it from profile owners.

The company is also limiting applications' ability to contact members to crack down on spamming of deceptive and misleading notifications.

Facebook's user experience has traditionally been considered significantly more elegant, controlled and organized than the one from key rival and social-networking leader MySpace.

Although MySpace remains more popular, Facebook has been gaining momentum for the past 12 months. Its user ranks have ballooned to 37 million active users today from 12 million in December. Over half of its active members return to the site daily.

Slide, which creates "widget" applications for social-networking sites and is big on MySpace, jumped on the chance to set up shop on Facebook, which has quickly become one of its most important platforms.

Although Slide has created some of the most popular Facebook applications, its detractors have criticized it for engaging in some of the inappropriate tactics flagged by Morin.

But Slide's CFO Kevin Freedman said that Slide is as interested as anyone else in providing a good user experience on Facebook and elsewhere.

"We listen to our users' feedback first and foremost. Regarding some of those critical comments, we haven't necessarily seen the same response from our users and that's really what drives us," Freedman said.

Chris Kirkland, CEO of MrKirkland.com, a Web design and development firm, has created three applications for Facebook, but has been unimpressed with the developer program. "I very much consider Facebook to be 'learning on the job' with the development platform," Kirkland wrote in an e-mail.

The tools and resources Facebook provides to developers could be better, he wrote. "Overall we have been extremely disappointed. The documentation is reasonable, though sometimes inaccurate but by far our main complaint is the diabolically poor level of communication. We have a feeling that we are dealing with a bunch of over busy college kids," Kirkland wrote.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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