On the surface, Facebook seems like the perfect venue on which to build a service, even a business. It’s wildly popular, easy to develop on, and is the source of viral spread for many apps and services. If you cross a certain line, though, Facebook becomes that pretty face with an axe behind its back ready to hack your business into bits and pieces.
The new MessageMe app isn’t the first victim of Facebook’s jealous blade, but it’s one of the most bizarre because it doesn’t appear to be the type of thing that Facebook would chop up. They did, though, cutting off access to Social Graph today and giving yet another reason why you’d have to be crazy to build around Facebook if there’s even the slightest change that they could view you as a competitor.
Vine. Voxer. Google. The list keeps growing. According to Facebook’s platform policy, the key is that you have to reciprocate and you can’t compete with core products.
Reciprocity and Replicating core functionality: (a) Reciprocity: Facebook Platform enables developers to build personalized, social experiences via the Graph API and related APIs. If you use any Facebook APIs to build personalized or social experiences, you must also enable people to easily share their experiences back with people on Facebook. (b) Replicating core functionality: You may not use Facebook Platform to promote, or to export user data to, a product or service that replicates a core Facebook product or service without our permission.
The last portion about replicating core functionality should actually state, “Replicating or Improving Upon..” That’s what Facebook really fears and it’s what MessageMe did. They took the messaging feature in Facebook and made it a much better mobile experience. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have shot up to #2 US social networking app. This is a problem for Facebook. If they are not going to allow developers to improve upon their core functionality, they’re basically telling both the development community as well as users that they are only interested in advancements if they get to make money from it. If others can build a better mousetrap that actually improves the Facebook experience, they’re not interested.
Facebook is primed for a fall. Despite their size and popularity, there is no such thing as “too big to fail”. Facebook is acting like a company that doesn’t think it needs anyone from the outside world. Rather than go the route of Google which rewards companies for improving on their own products by funding or acquiring them, Facebook cuts them off. This is a dangerous trend. Of all of the challenges that Facebook faces – security, privacy, political, and user fatigue to name a few – locking out innovations for the sake of competitive advantage is one of the riskiest.
As a public company, they’re going to have to learn this sooner rather than later if they want to continue to grow. Otherwise, they’re going to be the bad guys at the top, which will eventually translate to them being considered more of the bad guys at the bottom. In other words, users will not stand for stalled development because of greed and fear.
* * *
“Axe Killer” image courtesy of Shutterstock.