Facebook Attacks Crapplications With Developer Rules

Facebook, like Google and Apple, wants to improve the quality of third-party apps it offers. Look for app changes during the next 90 days.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 11, 2012

3 Min Read

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The term "app" all too often deserves to be preceded with the letters "cr"--in many cases that would convey a more accurate description of the quality of the software sold or given away in app stores.

Facebook is but the latest company to recognize this. On Wednesday, Facebook engineer Henry Zhang published a blog post announcing changes in the social network's developer policies. The company's goal, says Zhang, "is to help you build quality apps that people will love."

"Quality" comes up elsewhere in Facebook's developer literature. "We look forward to reviewing your high-quality submission," the company says in its explanation of its app review process, making it clear that not all submissions meet that bar.

[ Microsoft and Google keep up the feud. Read Google Puts Some Microsoft Office Exports On Life Support. ]

Low-quality apps vex other companies too. Google earlier this week published guidelines to help Android developers create quality tablet apps. And Apple, having pioneered the app store concept, confronted the problem in its 2010 developer guidelines. "We have lots of serious developers who don't want their quality apps to be surrounded by amateur hour," the company's developer guidelines state.

Apple deserves credit for transforming the software market. Before the iTunes App Store, shrink-wrapped, boxed software routinely sold for $60 or more. Among present mobile apps, the average price is about $1.83, and many developers in the consumer app market prefer free distribution in the hope of in-app purchase revenue. Apple even took its own medicine, dropping the price of its pro apps like Final Cut Pro from $1,000 to $299. But the software pricing changes that Apple and its peers have promoted come with consequences: Less expensive apps often mean less polished apps or even cynically designed apps.

In May, a month before Facebook launched its App Center, the company said it reserved "the right to remove apps that do not meet a high quality bar." Evidently that warning wasn't enough. The company has now decided to remove the ability of apps to post to a user's friends' walls through the Graph API. Such "wall spamming"--or "marketing," to use a less pejorative term--has long annoyed many Facebook users and even prompted CEO Mark Zuckerberg to characterize the practice as "lame."

"Apps that help people automatically share stories about content as they consume it, such as the music you are listening to, can be good experiences when apps create clear expectations for the user of what is being shared and when," explains Zhang. "When apps automatically publish stories on a person's behalf in a way that is unexpected, such as when they browse an online store, it can surprise and confuse people."

In addition, Facebook will no longer allow apps to display Custom Open Graph Actions as a consequence of user content consumption. In contrast to built-in Open Graph actions such as "Like," Custom Open Graph Actions are developer-defined actions--like "Save" or "Cook"--that invite a user to interact and then produce a result, such as posting content.

Together, these changes are likely to affect popular Facebook apps like the Washington Post's Social Reader, Socialcam, and Spotify that publish content to user's walls, a practice some users see as spamming.

Zhang explains that Facebook has revised its policies "to make clear that [developers] are responsible for providing users with a quality experience and must not confuse, defraud, mislead, spam, or surprise users."

Facebook developers have 90 days to rehabilitate their apps before these changes are enforced.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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