The Dangers of Building on the Facebook Platform

The Facebook platform is great. Great, that is, except when a bug on Facebook’s end renders your application useless. People expecting to see growth like iLike were sorely disappointed if they were unlucky enough to run into a series of timeout bugs that have struck Facebook in recent days. According to Facebook these problems are all fixed, but for some, it might be too little, too late.

From the user’s perspective these timeouts look like problems with the application, even though they happened for no other reason than the application was hosted on a machine with a certain IP address. The users don’t care, though, and they’ll happily uninstall the “broken” application.

Take Matches, for example–an application affected by this bug. Over the course of the period in which Matches was affected by this bug, the application lost over 100,000 users. Once the bug was finally fixed on the 14th of July, however, it started regaining some of that loss. They are now posting about 0.18% growth each day.

Problems like these are expected on a platform as complex as Facebook’s, but they can still serve to illustrate the potential dangers of tying your software to such a young, monolithic environment. All your eggs are in Facebook’s basket so when they go down, you go down, too.

Although it’s in Facebook’s interest to foster a community and market around the platform, every single application is still at the mercy of Facebook’s stability. Remember Adam Smith’s lesson, “[i]t is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Let’s hope Facebook stays interested.