Microsoft Veteran Doug Purdy Emerges to Help Improve Facebook’s Relations with Developers

Facebook has been saying for months that it wants to make working on the platform easier for developers. Starting about a month ago, it introduced a program called Operation Developer Love to help do that, headed by a new hire and well-known figure in the development community, Doug Purdy.

He’s an 11-year Microsoft veteran who has held a variety of engineering and developer evangelism leadership roles doing the same sort of outreach that he’s now heading up at Facebook. His new title is Director of Developer Relations, according to his first post on the Facebook developer blog — he’s part of the Facebook platform team, although it’s not clear how he fits in with the current organizational structure.

The operation is intended to “improve Facebook’s relationship with the community, including addressing bugs, improving responsiveness and other points of developer support,” a Facebook spokesperson replied when we inquired about Purdy and his new role. It’s part of a bigger investment in the platform: “We’re growing our platform teams as part of our commitment to working with developers and entrepreneurs from around the world to help them build more social products and services,” they said.

Earlier this fall, other platform product managers and marketers began running posts on the Facebook blog cataloguing significant new platform product upgrades. Starting with Purdy’s operation launch announcement in mid-October, the posts have become a weekly event, expanding to mention statistics like the number of new bug fixes, or number of posts in the developer platform. They’ve also included a list of the biggest updates from the past seven days or so. To date, those include the addition of: the ability for developers to create new custom graph objects, content filtering for plugins, access to live stream plugin social content, Page wall spam filtering, and a system for monitoring the quality of user engagement with application stories.

“We know bugs have been a frustrating part of Platform. We also know that our response has been slow (if at all),” Purdy wrote in his post. “We are committed to changing that.” The platform team has also been sending surveys to developers, trying to get a better understanding of what the biggest needs are in the ecosystem.

Operation Developer Love is a perhaps-overdue effort to help the platform become a more stable experience, that in conjunction with Facebook’s other changes, could have some impact on how developers perceive Facebook.

The fundamental dynamic, though, likely won’t change too much.

Facebook offers developers access to more than 500 million users through a variety of social communication channels for no initial cost, and advertising and virtual goods revenue models have already been proven to be profitable for applications. And, in contrast to other platforms, like Apple’s iTunes App Store, there’s no platform approval process.

Such easy access to growth and monetization has both spurred the creation of a new industry, social gaming, but also not prevented many developers from using spammy or scammy tactics to succeed. Facebook’s response, since launching the platform in 2007, has been to create a complex set of platform policies, and to constantly tweak its platform features so shady developers have a harder time succeeding. But not without some unintended consequences. The removal of notifications and requests, and adjustments to the news feed, have all hurt developer traffic numbers.

Facebook has already made concerted efforts to try to increase transparency, like introducing a long-term product roadmap in October of 2009. Whatever the on-the-ground results that Operation Developer Love brings, it shows that the company wants to keep developers happy after years of sometimes mutually damaging back-and-forth. As Microsoft product manager Dare Obasanjo wrote about Purdy’s arrival at Facebook, “Doug Purdy surfaces as Facebook’s last hope to save their relationship with developers. Good luck man.”

[Purdy image via Microsoft.]

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