It’s time we talk, Facebook, before you do something you’ll really regret. You see, I noticed you with that look in your eye again. The sort of look that marks the end of a promising young company and along with it a well-loved API. You say you’re changing, but I’m not sure I can ever trust you. Let me tell you why.
We all remember when you acquired Instagram and said it would be an independent product. We thought that was a good sign for the Instagram API. But it sure looked fishy when you launched a potential competitor to Instagram. Why does this put me on edge?
Your track record includes talent acquisitions. In fact, you’ve stated publicly that it is the only reason for you to acquire companies. The NextStop API had a good group of ex-Googlers behind it and was just getting started when you snatched them up. Their CEO went on to launch Timeline, but NextStop is nowhere to be found. I admit this one is a bit personal, as I won second place in a NextStop contest for unrut. The site is not nearly as useful as it could be once the NextStop code was stripped out.
Granted Gowalla wasn’t on top of the world when you bought its team, but there were still avid users. And there were developers like Ben Dodson pouring themselves into building on top of the Gowalla API.
FriendFeed was your first acquisition, Facebook, and it might be the saddest of all. You spared the site and the FriendFeed API, but the you left it to languish, slow and wholly unsupported. And why, so you could count the inventor of GMail as an employee until his shares vested?
I realize it’s a bit unfair for me to complain about killing APIs at the same time as lamenting dying services remaining on life support. But I don’t think we should get in a discussion about fairness, because it wouldn’t make you look very good.
And now you’ve acquired Face.com, the face detection company. That’s a great domain name, but the Face.com API is also a very popular. I think it’s been used in at least one hack at every Hackathon I’ve attended. I understand why you’d want to keep the technology to yourself, but it’s been set up as infrastructure for many apps. You’d be killing much more than one service.
And I think it would be useful for you to think of APIs from this infrastructure point of view. If you continue to succeed to get the world’s people using your service, you’ll become something of a public utility. Already many sites count on you for authentication. You sit at an important place for developers. So far, your whims are troubling.
I’m watching carefully. Already the Face.com announcement is vague: “Our mission is and has always been to find new and exciting ways to make face recognition a fun, engaging part of people’s lives… At Facebook, we’ll get to continue to pursue that mission.” Let’s hope the mission is continued in an open sort of way, without having to watch you kill another API, Facebook.