For me, the most interesting takeaway from press coverage of this week's highly publicized Facebook developer conference is the creation of Great Apps, a program that will stamp applications that are relevant, secure and well-designed with Facebook's seal of approval. It's like a tacit admission of what many of us know: Plenty of what's on Facebook is crap, useful for wasting time but not much else.
(Rest easy, all of you Facebook fanatics itching to call me a hater and point out how my knocks against the site show I am out of touch. It's already been done.)
Don't get me wrong. Great Apps could be, well, great. But it's overdue. Is the idealism of Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives beginning to wane a year after the site opened up its development platform to outsiders? Big surprise, some folks filled the site with annoying, buggy or downright insecure applications. Dow Jones coverage of the event published on CNNMoney.com featured a couple of quotes that struck me as confirmation that Facebook may finally be realizing that you can't always trust the community to produce quality work.
I'm also the first to admit that we made a lot of mistakes and there's a lot of things we've had to learn, including how to work more closely with our developer community and how to make sure that the applications that are providing the most long-term value are the ones that succeed in the ecosystem.
And from Benjamin Ling, Facebook's director of platform program development:
We took a pretty hands off approach and distribution became pretty overwhelming.
Developers themselves are apparently growing increasingly disenchanted with Facebook because, hey, the site hasn't been able to help them make any money. A long-rumored payment platform was MIA at the conference. Another key Zuckerberg quote, in response to a question about monetizing the site:
It's pretty clear we haven't figured out the optimal way for us to do this yet and we're exploring a number of things.
It's possible that Great Apps may help with monetization. More advertisers might be willing to promote their products on Facebook if it wasn't so filled with crap. As fed up as I sometimes am with Facebook, I should point out that I do think the site has potential, maybe even as a business tool. If there's going to be a category called Great Apps, why not one called Apps for Business?