Earlier this summer, Hamish McKenzie published a damning account of the shortcomings of Facebook’s Platform. Launched in 2007 with the promise of turning Facebook into the platform app developers built for, that promise has since disintegrated. Soon after Platform’s launch, Facebook began changing the rules on developers without warning, and killed the promise of a level playing field among apps of all sizes.
Over the years, Facebook has exhibited a pattern of capriciousness that has eroded developers’ faith in the idea that the platform could be a stable environment on which to build a business.
On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt today, Michael Arrington asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg what happened with the platform. “Does it have any meaning for you at this time or are you so focused on mobile that the old Facebook platform is dead?” Arrington asked.
Talking a mile a minute, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook initially launched Platform because it knew that it couldn’t “do everything.” So the company instead focused on a few core things, allowing third party app developers to fill in the holes. But it was a lot of people building games inside Facebook, and that was never “the full vision,” he said.
The vision was always to help third party apps by doing things like enabling login, importing friends, and distributing the apps to new audiences. That is what Facebook is focused on now, he says.
He laid out the three pillars of Facebook’s approach to platform: “build, grow and monetize.”
The company’s acquisition of the Parse development stack in April was meant to help app developers build their products using Facebook’s login and authorization tools. So that’s “build.” The “grow” part comes with Facebook’s ability to help apps get distribution, sometimes through engaging with their friends on Facebook but often through paid advertisements. “Some developers are relying on us as the primary way to spread their apps and that’s great,” he said.
The third part is monetization. Many developers are using Facebook to accept payments, a feature which was launched in test-mode earlier this month, Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg concluded by saying (and I’m paraphrasing) that if Facebook can help the app industry overall, by helping people build and monetize their apps, then Facebook is doing its job.
Facebook’s failure to deliver on its promises with platform has opened the company’s slogan, “Move fast and break things,” up to criticism. What’s the point of building a relationship with a company that’s constantly breaking things?
Arrington pulled up a photo taken at Facebook’s headquarters (a rogue photo! Facebook visitors are required to sign an NDA before entering). The photo was of a poster that says, “Slow down and fix your shit.”
“It doesn’t mean anything official,” Zuckerberg said. “I mean, I definitely want us to fix our stuff.”
Move fast and break things is meant to empower Facebook employees to try things out, Zuckerberg said. “Apple would never launch something that didn’t meet their perfection bar, and that has served them really well,” he said. But Facebook doesn’t take that approach. “I don’t demand that every iteration is perfect,” he said.
Image via Pazca on Flicker
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