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Innovation

Is Facebook an unsafe environment for business?

Developers continue to vent their frustration at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the direction he's taking his iconic social networking site. Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook is to become the web-based platform of the future.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

Developers continue to vent their frustration at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the direction he's taking his iconic social networking site. Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook is to become the web-based platform of the future. But has it become tainted with so many changes that it has become an unsafe environment for building a business?

According to Nick O'Neill, yes.

In a post noting that microblogging platform Twitter is growing at twice the rate of Facebook -- which itself is posting incredible growth numbers, notably overseas and in older demographics, with 5 million new visitors per week -- O'Neill also notes that Facebook's latest redesign, emulating the revolving status update river that Twitter is known for, is just one more thorn in the side of developers.

Why? Because Facebook, for all of the ubiquity of its signature blue, is a chameleon that can't settle down. Internally and externally.

O'Neill writes:

What was once billed as the first social operating system, has instead been replaced as the social backbone for external applications. Not a bad position for Facebook but now some developers have been forced to diversify their development efforts to other platforms.

Not all developers are complaining however. LivingSocial for example, continues to experience phenomenal growth thanks to widespread feed distribution in the new redesign. Flixster and a number of other applications have mimicked the call to action images utilized by LivingSocial. Soon, growth among these applications may become stunted as Facebook plans to be eliminating call to action images from feed stories according to people I’ve spoken with.

In other words, Facebook keeps adapting -- which isn't itself a bad thing -- without accepting a common set of standards. In the constantly moving sea that is Facebook, developers and businesses need something to grab hold of, lest they never dive in in the first place.

If Facebook continues to evolve, will businesses bite?

Take LinkedIn, for example: while not nearly as complicated (and large) as Facebook, it's seen as a stable site. Not a lot of changes happen, and when they do, they're quite deliberate and incremental.

Facebook, on the other hand, has made so many drastic changes in as many months that even its basic users are revolting. (During the last refresh, friend after friend complained: "Every time I log in, Facebook is different!")

Ironically, Twitter has acted more like LinkedIn in this area: despite its shaky corporate state, its site changes have been incremental, and while they haven't been prominently announced like those of Facebook, they've barely changed the core functionality of the site. Users -- and businesses -- haven't had to drastically adjust strategies to use the site to their advantage, even if there's no clear path just yet.

It's clear, then, that for all its breadth, Facebook is still very much the fledgling site it always has been, focused on the individual user. A user's home page may be radically reformatted, but core functionality of being able to find and share with your friends has remained the same. On the other hand, what little infrastructure there was for entities -- be it celebrities, institutions, and so forth -- has been haphazard.

What's a business supposed to do: start a group, or create an "entity" profile? And what of "fans" of a product or company? There are too many different options, none optimized.

In a way, it seems as if Facebook's user base has grown too fast for the company to manage it. For all of its scope, it's still very much a lawless Wild Wild West; hardly the planned community it seems.

I expect Facebook to work these things out in coming months. But in the meantime, it must build trust with businesses and guide them to a solution that works.

To boot, rival Twitter has already begun to address entities and the competition in its search for monetization. So the clock is ticking.

Companies are in the process of trying to understand social networking and how to use it. It's in Facebook's best interest to help them.

Here we are at a potential turning point for Facebook: Can it continue to evolve without alienating its own users -- the ones innovating on its site each day?

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