Facebook’s unimpressive opening day bodes well for the Facebook Platform.

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Yesterday, Facebook’s IPO could be seen as a face plant for the kid full of hubris during his first time in the spotlight. As a developer, I see this as a potentially great set of circumstances for Facebook.

My hope is that yesterday’s anticlimax of an IPO may lead to a more stable platform to build upon. I like the API and the more I work with it that admiration only grows. I just want evolution in the API, not revolution.

Facebook is already an amazing success in my opinion. Well, not just my opinion, but the millions of people who have used it. When people start to use Facebook they find it so “neat” to have access to their friends and acquaintances, it’s easy for them to lose pre-Facebook ways of communicating. Status updates, picture sharing, calendars, Facebook messages and chat, social games and apps, plus all of your friends being there? It’s an incredible combination of pieces to pull together in just 8 years.

Would you develop a house on sand?

Yes, the pieces making up Facebook are amazing and even more impressive, they have evolved rapidly. But, as someone who uses the Facebook API, the pace of change has a downside. The shifting API means developers are less likely to dig deeply into it and really explore its full capabilities it has to offer. I can think of 2 specific days where I woke up to find that groups of Facebook apps I’ve built suddenly stop working because changes in the Facebook API. In one case it was due to a previously announced change coming to the Facebook API that I missed and in one case it wasn’t. None of the apps were complex. They were standard fair, but they still broke simultaneously. (I could share my thoughts on why the process of keeping track of upcoming changes to the Facebook API is unwieldy, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.)

One reason for the API’s volatility was that there was no one stopping them from constant radical changes. Someone would have a great idea, so it went into the API. All in all, it’s worked really well for Facebook so far, I admit, but I think time for live with the API in a more stable state can lead to greatness.

A stable platform from recent history.

I look to the history of Javascript as a potential guide to what a more stable Facebook API might bring. Early JavaScript was a product of Netscape. There was a Microsoft parity version in JScript. There were competing languages vying for web dominance as well, like VBscript and Java. Javascript was perceived as fairly sloppy language, looked down upon by many developers, but it still ended up thriving in the long run. (The Internet-speed definition of “long run” is another topic for debate.)

Javascript basically had a nearly 10-year hiatus in changes to the language when the browser wars ended. Netscape died. Microsoft focused elsewhere without a competitor in the space.

The Javascript language’s foundation, the ECMAscript standard, was updated and ratified in 1999 by Ecma International, an international standards organization. Another updated and ratified version was not done until 2011.

That long stable period was a wonderful thing for Javascript. That time allowed a stable constituent use of the language to seep across the web. A large community of developers the chance to spend time with a stable version of Javascript and discover wonderful ways of pushing it to extremes. For example, AJAX was “discovered” in the language somewhere around 2004 or 2005. The interesting thing is that the building blocks of AJAX were there for years. The language was basically unchanged from 1999 to 2011. It took time for it to settle and for a full understanding of its power to emerge into use.

This is what I’d like to see happen with the Facebook API. I think a perceived stable version of the API will let this happen.

Meet your new governors, govner.

The Facebook API doesn’t have the same type of governing body, like Javascript has with Ecma International, but now it has something potentially similar in public shareholders who might be a uncomfortable with radical change to the Facebook API. I think this stability might be a great thing for Facebook. 

Will the shareholders hold Facebook’s proverbial feet to the fire? The lackluster IPO day makes me think they might just do that.

Stability will allow developers to really dig into the Facebook API and push it farther than it’s typically taken now. I don’t know what will be “discovered” in that API, but I bet there are treasures there waiting to be discovered that may not be obvious to even the creators of the API itself.

Perceived stability?

Before I wrap up, I did say “perceived stable version” above, didn’t I? My impression is that among developers, the Facebook API is just not stable. I know some developers have a firm grasp of what’s happening with the API, but having that trust in the API be wide-spread is important.

Facebook’s Developer Blog, shows the Facebook team understands this need to change the perception. Starting in a late 2010 blog post they introduced “Operation Developer Love” which has ?make things more reliable? as one of it’s goals. If you read the comments on that particular post, it seems like there is a way to go still, but I think the team is working on it.

They’re trying to address not just the actual stability of the platform, but also how developers think of it. Seeing Facebook as stable means developers will put more time into it and build great things. Great things will lead to more users. More users leads to ubiquity of Facebook. Ubiquity leads to more value to Facebook and to its public shareholders.

Comments on this post.

Nice article, John!  I have clients that don’t like the instability, so they simply don’t jump in.  However, I think you are correct.  Let’s hope, I just bought stock in FB.

By Mike Moser on May 23 2012

Stock price doesn’t matter so much in the short run. The reason that Facebook still has ridiculous potential despite their short-term flop isn’t just because of their current market dominance in social networking, its their possibility for entering and dominating other fields like search, ecommerce, entertainment, platforms, payments, and others as well. Look at how much social data that Facebook has access to that nobody else in the world has access to. And if you think that Facebook can’t compete with somebody like Google in search, just look at how much attention they’ve captured from businesses already - big brands are promoting Facebook URLs in their television advertisements, there’s a plethora of companies listed at buyfacebookfansreviews that do nothing other than promote Facebook business pages, and Facebook is nearing a billion active users. This would not be happening if Facebook wasn’t completely dominant in what they are doing and if they didn’t have the potential to enter some amazing new markets as well. Check back a few years from now, and people who sold their stock will be eating their hat at what could have been.

By George Leu on Jun 29 2012

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