Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Facebook becoming more like Twitter in a bad way

WSJ had an article today discussing how Facebook is revoking its API access to applications that compete with Facebook's core functionality.  Facebook is making lot of ifs-and-buts about what third party apps are getting blacklisted.  Twitter's Vine, MessageMe and several others have been officially banned from using Facebook social graph.

It's not so surprising that Facebook is doing this.  After all, Facebook has a long history of not letting its competitors access their users' social graph.  It started with Google's potable data policy.  While Facebook accepted import of Google contacts, Facebook did not allow its content to be shared with any other network in an easy way.

Now that Facebook is staking out its ground against Twitter and many mobile applications, it makes sense for Facebook not to share its treasure trove of 1 billion users' social graph for their short-term gain.  In that way, Facebook is becoming more like Twitter.  Becoming more and more unpredictable and unwelcoming platform for third party developers to invest their time to build useful applications.

The truth is that this prevention measure will stop at yielding just short-term gain.  A feel good measure to appease investors.  But in longer term I don't think preventing access to achieve the desired effect, which is keeping the users away from the new apps and keep them on Facebook.

That's because social network has always been relationships among its users.  And the relationships (edges connecting user nodes) are kept at many places in addition to Facebook.  Our contacts are in our email inbox, address book in our phones, dozens of group messaging applications, stack of business cards in our Rolodex, etc.  Our relationship is maintained by us.  If users stop seeing the reasons to be on Facebook, and start spending less time on it, then the social graph will become stale.  With less vibrant third party app community, keeping the users on Facebook will be more difficult.

It's a feedback loop.  Less apps, less appeal for users to be on Facebook, less time spent on Facebook, less value is stored on Facebook because of stale social graph, and the cycle continues.

Instead of making a choice between promoting existing Facebook features and blocking API access to third party developers, Facebook should decide whether to assemble more data by allowing third party apps or less data by blocking their access.

When will social network Cold War Era end?

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