Closed Platform Risk

Last week, Danah Boyd of the Berkman Center blogged about her confusion with the fascination with Facebook. Danah questions the reliance by companies on a platform they have no control over and the risks to which that dependency can expose them.

… I don’t understand … why so much of the tech crowd who lament Walled Gardens worship Facebook. What am I missing here?

Robin Chase, CEO of GoLoCo, presented at last night’s Web Innovators’ Group event. During her demo, Robin got flustered to the point that I thought she was going to throw a laptop out the window of the Royal Sonesta into the Charles River.

GoLoCo started (as I understand it) as a web site. The company enables people to share rides. When the Facebook API came around, GoLoCo made a bold commitment to leave the WWW and instead leverage all the great benefits of an existing, big, structured social network to build its service out. Check out the GoLoCo Facebook app.

Unfortunately, like all ‘platforms’, Facebook has bugs, bumps, and challenges for its developers. To exacerbate the problem, Facebook isn’t an established organization like Microsoft, which probably has on the order of 10,000 employees dedicated to infrastructure development and support. Nor are the Facebook API and infrastructure open-sourced so that messy issues can be sorted out by the community or the application developer themselves.

The media and many entrepreneurs (yours truly included) have had something of a love-fest these last few months about what the Facebook API enables. As time progresses, more complicated applications will push the limits of the Facebook platform. I’m bullish on Facebook and I hope they can support their developers optimally.

UPDATE: Interesting blog post on this topic from a musician who has been through some related troubles.


  1. Jamie O'Keefe

    However, the one thing I hate about facebook is that causes, groups and users are not better integrated and lack similar features.

    For example, as the Green Rainbow user, I can give it a list of names and have it tell me who is a facebook member and who isn’t. In the Green-Rainbow Party group, I cannot do that. It really irks me that to simply look up who is a member from a list of emails, I needed to create a new user (with single login) rather then do it from a shared Group where multiple people can administer it.

  2. Jamie O'Keefe

    I think the reasons companies like it are:

    o It has a large number of users
    o It targets a younger demographic who companies covet
    o It has a cool api that they can tie to their existing systems and allows companies to better identify their customers
    o It doesn’t look like crap like myspace

    I think the reasons tech folks like it are:

    o It has a cool api that can they tie to their existing systems
    o It doesn’t look like crap like myspace
    o Everything important is at your fingertips and doesn’t take up a lot of screen real estate unlike Linked-in
    o If you don’t use the api, it allows you to focus on content and not layout since layout is already set for you.

    For me the thing clicked in that the Green-Rainbow Party needed to be on it was when I heard that Obama had 200,000 friends on facebook. It is another way to keep in touch with our supporters. I could take our existing supporter list, extract the emails, then send friend invites to all of our supporters who are already facebook users. Myspace doesn’t allow us to do that. So the number of our facebook supporters is considerably higher than our myspace supporters.

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