There are more opportunities than ever for developers today but that doesn't mean that making money is always easy. Some of the most attractive platforms for developers are far from perfect and fraught with risk.
Some Facebook app developers were reminded of that this weekend when their applications were shut down without warning due to ads served up by the third party Facebook ad networks many of them rely on to generate revenue.
According to the All Facebook blog, developers and ad networks were sent scrambling trying to figure out what's going on. Finally, Facebook posted a message to its forum stating in part:
On July 28th we announced new advertising policies and said “[w]e’d like to remind you that you are responsible for all content within your application, and will be held accountable for any policy violations in ads appearing in your application, regardless of whether you have served them or they come from a third-party ad network. Facebook will enforce against developers and applications that include policy-violating ads — such as by imposing a temporary restriction on functionality or permanently disabling the application — as we do for other instances of policy violation.”
Since then we have been taking action when necessary. In addition to prior enforcements, recently some applications were temporarily suspended for running a high percentage of violating ads. These poor ads — even from a small number of applications — can diminish user confidence in all advertising, adversely impacting the entire Platform ecosystem.
Does Facebook have the right to do this? Absolutely. Should Facebook be concerned about the quality of ads third parties serve on Facebook through apps? Absolutely.
But that's not the end of the story. In reality, it's pretty obvious that third party ad networks are a threat to Facebook's increasingly lucrative self-serve ad platform and it was only a matter of time before Facebook reconsidered its laissez-faire approach to third party ads.
Highlighting the fact that this isn't just about protecting the "ecosystem" is an email RockYou, which runs a Facebook ad network, sent to its developers. It points out:
We are as surprised as you about this latest round from Facebook, and have been consistently sending creative to them in an effort to get much clearer guidance. Much of the time, we don’t hear anything back or we get vague answers. In some cases, we have had ad creative flagged through our network when very similar creative is running on Facebook itself, served through Facebook’s ad system.
If some of the ads that get flagged as part of RockYou's own self-regulation are not all that dissimilar to the ads that Facebook has no problem serving itself, the implication is pretty clear: Facebook is apparently -- for obvious reasons -- more likely to lower its standards for ad quality when the advertiser is paying Facebook. Third party ads, on the other hand, are held to a different (higher) standard.
That it has come to this isn't really surprising. Despite Facebook's interest in building an open platform for developers, it's a for-profit business that needs to put its own interests first. And they're increasingly in conflict with those of the developers and ad networks in the Facebook ecosystem.
For developers who are feeling the pressure and are worried about their ability to monetize going forward, other business models (such as CPA and direct payments for virtual goods) may be safer (for now at least) and a close evaluation of other development platforms may be in order.
Photo credit: miconian via Flickr.