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.

matches-graph.png 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.


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12 Responses to “The Dangers of Building on the Facebook Platform”

  1. Ari says:

    Hey Jesse,
    Thanks for the post. Obviously, there’s nothing we can do about any outages that may have already happened, but I just wanted to let you know that we’ve been working with our operations team over the last couple of days to nail down the last of these problems and also to set up some better monitoring so that issues like this can be resolved more quickly in the future.
    Thanks for bearing with us.

  2. Alex Notov says:

    Ah yes, this is a good post that deals with the subject of developing for a platform vs. building your own. Let us hope the guys at facebook will listen.

  3. Jesse Farmer says:


    Oh, I totally understand. I’m sure this issue was given top priority and I know you guys are working your butts off producing all the awesome stuff you do. It’s just unfortunate to see apps fail and developers have their review boards filled with “OMG THIS CRAP APP DOESN’T WORK” only because of an issue with the platform. Hopefully all the major issues have been worked out.

    Maybe in those cases where you know it’s an issue with the platform you could replace the generic “This app doesn’t work” message with something letting the users know that it’s really a problem with the platform?

  4. dave mcclure says:

    might be tough to distinguish between app errors & platform errors in all cases, but i agree — the solution here should be more specific error msgng.

    Facebook folks: you guys should commit to fixing this one asap. it’s an easy fix, and will earn you some love from your developers. (and not fixing will earn the opposite ;)

    (btw, if you want any tips on turning error messages into fun marketing lemme know. youtube, twitter, simply hired, many other companies use error msgs to let people know that the folks behind the server are also human. they’ll cut you some slack, if you’re real about it.)

  5. » Should you trust Facebook with your users? | The Social Web | says:

    [...] Inside Facebook has an interesting post detailing the affect a Facebook bug or partial outage can have on a Facebook application’s user numbers. When there are kinks in the Facebook Platform, to users it can often look like a problem with the third-party app itself. That’s because Facebook applications have to go through the social network’s own servers, presumably as a security measure. [...]

  6. Insider Chatter by Donna Bogatin » ConnectU to ‘Deceptive’ Mark Zuckerberg: Shut Facebook Down says:

    [...] What is the ultimate danger of building on the Facebook platform? [...]

  7. links for 2007-07-17 « My Weblog says:

    [...] The Dangers of Building on the Facebook Platform (tags: facebook platform problems stats myspace web20) [...]

  8. Inside Facebook » 2007 » July » 29 says:

    [...] a clever idea and the growth of Crushes seems to reinforce that. It’s unfortunate that Matches was hit by a bug which rendered it useless for a week. Hopefully Crushes can resume where Matches left [...]

  9. anne says:

    FACEBOOOOOK SUCKSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! I did love it. But all of a sudden I’am unable to do anything due to errors? that shouldn’t be there?? I can’t write on others wall, change my status, write ppl msges. OMG what the hell? get on the BALL, this shouldn’t be happening. I’am getting rid of my account today if this isn’t fixed. ARGGGGGGGGG

  10. Lauren says:

    I would have to concur – Facebook is a sore disappointment and I am still puzzled as to why it has received such popularity since its inception in 2005. I am often puzzled as to why so many people use it, considering that it lacks all aesthetic quality, has virtually no features that are honestly that appealing or stimulating, and is really a grand clusterfuck of sensory overload.

    Furthermore, I find the News Feed feature to be not only a blatant example of sensory overload (I really don’t care what people are doing at any particular moment), but also an obvious transgression of the right to privacy.

    This is why I am strongly considering deleting my account. The entire enterprise seems to encapsulate the modus operandi of superfluous excess, and it really does not afford itself any incentives other than providing stalkers and hackers the incentive to find out exactly what you are doing at any given moment. I am greatly perturbed by the fact that Facebook does not have the proper firewalls to prevent hackers from finding out the exact IP Address of your computer, so that anyone can easily hack into your system and receive access to your contact information, which can be utilized at their disposal.

    I remember when the idea of the information age contained the promise of providing useful information at your fingertips. Now, it seems to have deteriorated into a kind of communist system whereby all information is centralized and dispersed evenly across the globe, such that anyone can access it. In the vast network of information that comprises the internet, in which there exists superficial limitations in terms of accessibility to domains containing personal info, is there ever the consideration that the decentralization of such information should be imperative to the preservation of personal data? When, in the information age, can we obtain the conception of the ethics of personal identity, and how can such rights be maintained?

    Where is the line of demarcation between safeguarding personal info and the allotment of universal access to centralized information? Should this line be at the discretion of social utilities such as Facebook, or should it be at one’s individual discretion?

    I really apologize for this being so heady, but I’m really manic right now (I am bipolar), and I’m on a roll…I just wonder about these kinds of things all the time. I think that ultimately, it’s up to the person’s individual discretion. I mean, you can make accounts such as Facebook and Myspace private, but I still wonder about firewalls, and the extents of security. I really apologize for going crazy on this one, but I’ve been attempting to reconcile this dilemma for years…Does anyone who is more immersed in the field of information/technology than I am have any ideas?? I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who are more articulate than I am at explaining this (believe me, one of the greatest faults of cerebral people is that we’re completely dumb at simplifying things). So if anyone has any ideas, let me know. Your insights are greatly appreciated…

  11. Lauren says:

    ok, i’ll make these posts much shorter and clearer next time. i apologize for that….pardon my verbal diarrhea.

  12. Mad Morticia says:

    Suddenly am not able to access Facebook or any of the games affiliated with it. Have no trouble getting any other sites on the web. Have restored my system to 1 July. But nothing works. This is truly breaking my heart. Why?
    Is it because I live in Australia?

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