Facebook Asks Developers to Agree to Social Contract

Yesterday Facebook formally announced the launch of the new design and there were a significant number of changes. Much of the driving force behind the new profile design was the pollution being created by a practically limitless number of applications on user profiles. Developers were also taking advantage of weaknesses in the platform to help their applications grow. Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that exploiting those weaknesses in any way (constituting a “gray area”) would result in the application being banned.

With the launch of the new profile, a “gray area” remains and Facebook knows it. In a post yesterday, Paul Jeffries stated:

Facebook is about empowering and connecting people through the sharing of information. That’s undermined if users who receive an invitation or other communication suspect it was sent for an ulterior motive, such as gaining points in a game. Similarly, because users represent themselves through their profile, they shouldn’t be goaded into adding a tab or other integration point just to see content they could have seen anyway, or in trade for some unrelated benefit.

There is an implicit social contract you should respect as a facilitator of user-to-user interactions, and in the trusted relationship you have with your user. Therefore, we are introducing new policies to prevent applications from creating artificial or inappropriate incentives to use Facebook features (including, for example, sending requests and adding profile boxes).

The “new policies” that Paul speaks about are outlined in his post but still include a number of “gray” areas. Paul states that developers can have links to the new application integration points “but they should not intrude on the user’s experience by prompting for a permission if doing so isn’t appropriate in the natural flow of events.” I’m sure most developers will be able to tell if it is appropriate. Bending any rules will ultimately lead to the application being banned starting at noon Pacific time on the 28th of July.

One interesting new policy is that developers cannot incentivize requests. This means providing points for inviting more users is now officially against the terms. Additionally, developers may only make “appropriate calls to action in notifications and Feed stories.” This statement is somewhat unclear but developers have until noon Pacific time on the 11th of August to abide to these new policies for existing features. This means we could soon see a whole new wave of applications being removed from the platform in the coming weeks. These new policies combined with the profile redesign will most definitely reduce the virality of many applications.