At the recent F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook Messenger was going to open up as another developer platform. Similar to what Facebook did back in 2007, it will bring back practices from a different time.
Facebook was different then, you could invite large masses of your friends to play all sorts of games and build new breeds of applications through the platform. Facebook Platform in 2007 was the Wild West. It was a fun time to explore the social graph and build.
It was the first time a big company somewhat successfully opened their API, providing a new type of distribution, game playing and sharing among friends. For those who were involved in development during those early days, the prospect of recreating some of that through the new Facebook Messenger Platform was exciting.
But things are a bit different this time. Facebook in 2007 moved at a different pace. What was available in their conference release for Platform will probably take at least a few releases for Facebook Messenger Platform to catch up. Facebook in 2015 is more mature, publicly traded and more careful with their releases. While potentially frustrating for hungry developers who want to build, it’s a necessity.
In the earlier days with Platform, it was clear that the system was too open. Developers were able to spam, build inappropriate apps with users’ data and generally provide users with impersonal shallow experiences. Over time, Facebook very much caught on and slowly but effectively took back control.
While it was fun to invite hundreds of your ‘friends’ to play on your farm or help with your mafia, it always felt that the nature of those experiences was simply to push. Push as much content out onto friends’ Newsfeeds as possible, as opposed to creating a deeper online connection with them.
Through those experiences, it’s clear with the Facebook Messenger Platform rollout that the mission is different. It is to have developers build great products and experiences that are more directly oriented to their friends. The very nature of the documentation for Messenger suggests building experiences that are focused, explicit and structurally sound. Something that was not quite there in 2007.
In the recent earnings call, Zuckerberg reports more than 600 million users which represents 10 percent of all VoIP, making Messenger a seriously viable choice for strategic distribution. Much the way Platform did in 2007.
In its current iteration, Facebook Messenger Platform lends itself well to turn-style games and tailored media distribution, Giphy, HappyAlchemy and Apptly — something other platforms have struggled with. In many ways, developers are forced to think simpler, which compels you to create a less spammy and more intimate experiences with a single friend, or groups.
As Facebook continues to create deep and strategic cross-platform integration into its growing developer tool set, it slowly becomes the longterm winner for developers.
The Messenger rollout, while more focused and controlled, is just the start. The 2007 release of Facebook Platform was bigger, but the new style of development taking place will soon bring much more impact.