The Facebook Platform, launched in May 2007, has been an unqualified success. Nearly 20,000 applications have been released by third party developers, and it spurred Google to quickly launch a competing platform of its own. At least two venture funds have been created that focus solely on Facebook applications. Etc.
But the flood of applications caused problems right from the start. Facebook has repeatedly changed the rules, but always seems one step behind the creative moves by developers to spam their way into gaining new users. Most recently, limits were put in place that limit the number of invitations users could send out. The more people who ignore requests from a particular application, the lower the limit for that app.
Clearly Facebook is a little tired of beating questionable developer tacticts away with a stick. So now they will try the carrot approach as well – by rewarding developers who play by the rules and build useful, popular applications. The new program is being called the Preferred Application Program.
This isn’t related to the recent CBS/March Madness issue where Facebook allowed a (paying) partner to play by different rules than the others. From what we’ve heard, Facebook is not going to be asking developers who are chosen to participate to pay in any way for this privilege. Classification as “preferred” will be merit based…although so far no one seems to know what the requirements will be.
Nor do they seem to know exactly how Facebook will reward these developers. One way is to have different rules, like allowing application users to invite more than the normal number of friends per day. That would be very attractive to developers, but the recent backlash over the CBS incident shows that the rank and file won’t stand for that.
But there are an almost unlimited number of other ways that Facebook can promote preferred developers. Preferred apps can show up higher in search, for example. And Facebook can give them a badge or other sign of endorsement that they can add to their application pages. A more subtle, but possibly more powerful benefit, may be to change the rules on how and when user activities through these applications can show up in the News Feed. Finally, new Facebook users could be presented with a set of default third party applications to add when they create an account, perhaps tailored to their stated interests.
Facebook hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment on the new program. From what we hear this is still in the planning stages and at least a month or so from being launched.
Update: Just got this response from Facebook, which is either a confirmation or a denial of this story: “We’ve definitely been iterating on Facebook Platform and are continuing to experiment with new models to better communicate and engage with our community. The team is considering developer partnership programs and developer roundtables with the goal of gathering feedback to improve Platform.”