Facebook Takes Further Steps To Curb User Abuse; Change In How Applications Are Measured

Last week Facebook updated their developer platform to restrict some of the more egregious abuses of users by application developers – bait and switch profile advertisements and friend spamming.

Today they announced additional changes. And Facebook also announced that they are changing the way applications are measured to show user engagement instead of just how many users have added an application.

Defending Users Against Abuse

Today they’ve updated the platform again to further restrict questionable behavior. In a blog post on the Facebook developers site, Dave Morin outlines the new rules and says “With the upcoming changes, we hope to shift the balance more in favor of good apps.”

It is now impossible for applications to hide things from profile owners. Previously, applications were showing ads to friends without the owner seeing the ad when looking at his/her own profile.

Facebook has also taken steps to limit invitations sent to friends, and have stopped applications from sending emails to users who’ve added it.

Application Metrics

Morin also says Facebook is going to start giving users more information on which applications are actually being used, as opposed to simply added and forgotten:

This week you’ll see us shift our application directory metrics to a focus on user engagement. This will help inform users as they make decisions on which applications to add as well as shift developer focus to engagement rather than total users. More specifics will be available as we roll out these changes this coming week.

This is a good change. Newer applications with fewer users will now have a way to move up on the charts if users are really engaged with the application. We’ll have to wait and see exactly how they plan on measuring engagement, but overall this is good news for the lesser known but “good” applications that are currently hard to find.

The Quickly Evolving Platform

Facebook is still a young platform, and it’s good that they are taking steps to reduce abuse of the user base. But they don’t seem to be taking any remedial action against past abusers, meaning those applications get to keep the millions of users they’ve racked up using questionable practices.

Since application developers aren’t penalized for finding the weaknesses in the Facebook platform, expect them (and their venture dollars) to continue to focus on finding the next hole to exploit. If Facebook were to slap a few of the worst offenders on the wrist, perhaps others would lose the incentive to engage in bad behavior.

Also, the changes are very cumbersome for even the non-abusers. For example, applications will now need to find another way to contact users since email is out. That creates uncertainty, and reduces the incentive for the good guys to innovate since they don’t know if functionality will disappear.

At the end of the day, it may take more to police this ecosystem than occasional band aids to the platform to stop abuse as it appears. A more subjective reward and punishment system may eventually evolve where Facebook takes an active role in policing the behavior of application developers. It may or may not be a good thing, but it is almost certainly inevitable.