Facebook Disables All Pencake Apps

After shooting up to become one of the largest developers on Facebook’s platform, Pencake Limited is getting all of its hundred-odd quiz apps disabled, including massive ones like Create your Quiz and Elements Analyst Creator. The reason appears to be policy violations, which we covered last week, although we don’t know which specific violations resulted in the ban.

From Facebook:

We recently disabled applications created by the developer of ‘Create Your Quiz’ for violating Facebook Platform policies. We enforce these policies regularly and will continue to take appropriate action against applications we find do not provide a trustworthy experience for users.

Other third-party developers on Facebook’s developer forum have been criticizing Pencake and documenting its platform activities. The company had amassed more than 44 million monthly active users to date, according to our AppData measurement service. But the story’s not over — Facebook says that Pencake itself is not banned, meaning that it could be back on when Facebook decides it is fully complying with platform policies.

As we’ve noted before, one of the most interesting things about Pencake is that it got so far at this point in the evolution of the developer ecosystem. Facebook has an open platform, meaning it allows developers to build for it without first having to get individually approved, in contrast to how some others operate (Apple’s iOS platform being an obvious example). The advantage to being open is that anyone can quickly build and iterate their own applications, but that’s also the downside. Anyone can also build apps that spam users, as Pencake appears to have most recently done.

Facebook has at times struggled to contain the sheer volume of anti-user actions taken by less scrupulous developers. In fact, the company has spent the last few months shutting down other quiz applications, but most of those were in English, that we saw. Pencake may have been able to stay quiet in part because many of its applications are in other languages.

New enforcement mechanisms are coming to Facebook, too, as chief technology officer Bret Tayler recently said. The company is working on an automated system that aims to preclude all spam-like communication. From the interview:

So rather than saying you’re not allowed to do X, Y, and Z with a dialog box in your game, if you’re sending useless messages from your game, we just won’t deliver them, and we’ll give you that feedback. And then you can change the way you send messages to send higher signal-to-noise content.

Most of the biggest developers have practiced spammy tactics at points since the platform launched in 2007, but they have managed to provide enough value to users, or at least reform before Facebook cut off their platform access. In the last few years, Facebook has also kept modifying and removing communication channels to preclude widespread abuse. The platform today is far less “viral” than it used to be, but the quality of the applications — and the user experience — has also gone up. The running battle between Faceboook’s platform enforcement team and some developers has, despite all the pain, produced a vibrant new ecosystem.