Facebook Platform Turns 1 – Revolution or Head Fake?

One year ago today, the Facebook Platform was launched at the f8 conference in San Francisco. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster ride full of twists and turns. Here’s a quick summary of the Facebook Platform story over the last year, in three parts:

Part 1 – The Wild West

In the early Platform days, there was no “Facebook user experience” sheriff in town. Developers were relatively free to run wild as they pleased. Now standard please-invite-your-friends screens and only-slightly-relevant feed stories were quickly adopted as unofficial “best practices” by the most aggressive (and, by provided measures, successful) developers.

Early successful developers were quickly snapped up at bargain prices by widget industry “veterans.” Thousands of independent developers achieved greater distribution than they ever could on their own website. Several start-ups were funded to build Facebook apps. Conference organizers found a business in “virality” panels. Facebook found buyers of its stock at what most would call a “healthy” valuation. A new era of innovation on the Internet with 1/1000th the customer acquisition costs had begun.

Part 2 – Weeding the Garden

A few months after the Platform spigots had been running full bore, Facebook started to turn down the faucet just a little bit. And then a little more the next week. And then a little more the next week. What else was Facebook to do, the company asked? The profile page was full of drive-by app boxes, and the feed had become more spammy than the middle of a Sunday paper the week before Christmas.

Around that same time, McClure started adding panels on “engagement” and “monetization” to the agenda. Ticket sales were good. CPMs were not. Some folks on Madison Avenue smelled triage, and decided to help the guys in t-shirts and blazers stop screwing up their east coast meetings.

It was also during that time that a few jealous friends crashed Facebook’s party. Although not quite ready to let loose and get out on the dance floor, many social networks were nonetheless inspired to become just-a-little more vulnerable… but that was still enough to keep things exciting.

Part 3 – Awaiting the Harvest

364 days after the Platform launched, Facebook announced an impending “update” to the profile page and navigation of the site that would, in so many words, “separate the application wheat from the chaff.”

During that year, Facebook’s overall reach had doubled to more than 70 million active users, making it the 6th most visited website in the world. Other social networks had grown much more modestly over the same period.

Developers waited in anticipation of what was about to come – many still very hopeful, but most uncertain of what to really expect.

Clearly, the Facebook Platform has fueled a massive part of the company’s growth over the last year, and Facebook has totally juked its competitors into thinking they need to viciously “protect the user experience” instead of opening the floodgates and giving their own platform economies a chance to develop.

Overall, the Facebook Platform has been a big success by almost any reasonable measure. Not only have hundreds of developers built small businesses (and several big ones) on the back of Facebook, a whole ecosystem has developed to make the marketplace efficient. The state of the Platform is good!

Cheers to hoping that year 2 leads to more growth and stability for the Platform economy and Facebook.

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