Facebook is common backbone for many of the most popular social apps on the market today. An app has very little chance to succeed it doesn’t allow users to tap into their curated social graph and friend list already on Facebook. The world’s largest social network has spent over nine years building its algorithmic database of social connections and in a move last week, it blocked access to Twitter’s new video looping app Vine Yandex’s Wonder, and voice messaging walkie-talkie app Voxer.
The social graph is Facebook’s bread and butter that not only knows who your friends are, it also identifies relationship degrees between individuals, your interests, your social habits, your purchasing behaviors, your ad receptiveness and your favorite restaurants and bars to meet up with your friends after work.
Having to go through the agonizing process of setting up your friend list again with each new app would be a major hindrance to a social app adoption. Currently, other social network apps exist that have gained major traction in recent months like: Via.Me, the recently redesigned PingMe Messenger by RadiumOne, and the social aggregator app Path – and even these elegantly designed apps depend on being able to access contact data from Facebook to achieve greater reach.
After news broke last week about the social network blocking Vine, Wonder and Voxer, TechCrunch reported that the next day, Facebook made two clarifications to its platform policy about reciprocity and replication. It still plans to ban apps that use Facebook data but don’t make it easy for users to share back to Facebook. It also reserves the right to ban apps that try to replicate Facebook’s core functionality without explicit permission.
The full-text of the revised section I.10 of its Platform Policy now reads:
Reciprocity and Replicating core functionality: (a) Reciprocity: Facebook Platform enables developers to build personalized, social experiences via the Graph API and related APIs. If you use any Facebook APIs to build personalized or social experiences, you must also enable people to easily share their experiences back with people on Facebook. (b) Replicating core functionality: You may not use Facebook Platform to promote, or to export user data to, a product or service that replicates a core Facebook product or service without our permission.
This replaces the former policy that read “Competing social networks: (a) You may not use Facebook Platform to export user data into a competing social network without our permission.”
In a developer blog post by Facebook Platform Head Justin Osofsky, he emphasized that Facebook doesn’t plan to remove the ability to use it as a login mechanism, pull profile data for personalization, or allow sharing to the news feed. He mentions, “For the vast majority of developers building social apps and games, keep doing what you’re doing. Our goal is to provide a platform that gives people an easy way to login to your apps, create personalized and social experiences, and easily share what they’re doing in your apps with people on Facebook.”
A piece of advice for app developers: If you are building an app where your success relies solely on the ability for people to tap into their existing contacts on Facebook, you had better tread carefully and revisit your PRD. Facebook reserves the right to squelch your app if it appears as though you might be cutting into their core business: You.