Facebook developers irked by app verification process

Facebook now gives its developers the option of submitting their applications for review to obtain a seal of approval, but some developers aren’t thrilled with the program.

Via its new Application Verification Program, Facebook will review applications according to several criteria, such as their trustworthiness, transparency and overall usefulness.

Developers must pay a US$375 fee to have an application reviewed. If earned, the certification is good for 12 months, after which developers must pay another $375 for their application to be reviewed again.

Games developer Christopher Bourton, co-founder of Infinite Pixel Studios in London, worries that this might be the first step to eliminating the Facebook platform’s traditionally free status.

“I do understand them wanting to cover costs, and trying to weed out the bad content and spamming Apps,” he said via e-mail. “This won’t achieve that. It will just prove who paid Facebook off.”

“We are doing part of the work of verifying the App, and having to pay also. That just doesn’t seem right at all,” he added.

Bourton isn’t alone in his concerns.

The initial wave of feedback on the official Facebook discussion forum for developers has ranged from skeptical to outright negative. Developers’ main objections seem focused on the amount of the review fee and on the fact that approval lapses after a year.

The annual cost of having applications reviewed could become prohibitive for smaller developers with multiple applications, creating a two-tier system in which larger developers with more financial resources will get the upper hand, some forum participants noted.

Others argued that the financial burden of evaluating applications shouldn’t be placed on developers since it is Facebook’s decision to allow annoying, spammy and deceitful applications on its site.

“I have my concerns on the damage this will have to the developer community, the impact of mistrust by users if you aren’t verified, and how far Facebook will push both the general user, and developers into trusting in this,” Bourton said.

However, Sandra Liu Huang, a Facebook platform program manager, said concerned developers aren’t fully understanding the aim and scope of the Application Verification program.

For starters, Facebook envisions the program as a purely optional one, where only a few hundred developers will participate initially, she said. Facebook currently has 48,000 applications in its directory and about 400,000 developers registered in its developer program.

“Verification is an opportunity for developers interested in creating a long term business to be able to demonstrate to users they’re providing a trustworthy experience,” she said in a phone interview, adding that the Facebook platform will continue to be open and free to all developers.

Facebook will offer discounts on the review fee to students and non-profit organizations, and may lower the cost of re-verifying applications that were previously granted certification, she said. It is necessary for Facebook to require that applications be re-submitted for review after 12 months because it’s likely they will have evolved and changed significantly during that time, Liu Huang said.

From the end-user perspective, the idea is to draw in members who so far have been unwilling to install third-party applications by giving them extra assurance that certain applications have been vetted by Facebook, she said.

Once these members lose their reticence, they will likely become more engaged and install other applications, including those that haven’t been certified by Facebook, she said. This will benefit Facebook developers in general, she said.

Rival MySpace is trying to get some mileage out of Facebook’s decision to charge for its application reviews. “MySpace led the way in creating policies that promote a healthy ecosystem, which includes treating all developers, large or small, equally. We already review every app before it goes live, and the cost is nominal so we have no plans to charge developers,” MySpace said in a statement.

Facebook developers can register now to have their application reviewed. It will likely take Facebook several weeks to start contacting the developers individually via e-mail. At that time, Facebook will send them the formal review submission form to fill out.

The “Facebook Verified App” seals will begin to appear early in 2009 in applications’ About Pages and in the site’s application directory, according to Facebook.

Approved applications will also enjoy higher levels of visibility in Facebook notification mechanisms, like the Applications Feed and other communication features.

In addition, developers of certified applications will get some financial incentives, like credits to advertise on Facebook and discounts on Facebook developer events, she said.

Independent of the verification program, Facebook will continue to conduct, as it has from the start of its platform program, a light review of all applications before putting them in the directory, checking to make sure they work properly and assigning them to an appropriate category, she said.

It also constantly monitors that applications adhere to Facebook’s terms and conditions.

Copyright © 2008 IDG News Service. All rights reserved. IDG News Service is a trademark of International Data Group, Inc.

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