When it comes to apps, Facebook giveth and Facebook taketh away

facebook ecosystemWithin a handful of months, Facebook has earned itself a reputation as a less-than-safe harbor for third party developers. It used to be an ideal launching pad for your new app: Create something that’s easily shareable and naturally social and let it flourish in the house that Facebook built. And this meant that everyone using the new app also had easy access for finding others using it, and an already-populated place where they could share their new content. But all that has changed very, very quickly.

Facebook has made it clear that building out specific, in-house products is a major priority. This obviously puts it in competition with the community of third party developers it’s welcomed into its fold with the Open Graph. And now, we’re seeing the results of what happens when a platform invites and then shuns outside developers – especially those who are perhaps giving it a little too much competition. Which means, of course, that anyone using these successful new apps is SOL.

Here’s a quick recap of the things we’ve lost, and the Facebook products proper we’re being offered instead.

Goodbye Vintage Camera, hello Instagram or Camera

fb camera appsLate last month, Facebook cut off Vintage Camera’s access to its social graph. At the time, the app’s developers told us that the social network cut them off because of strong negative feedback.

“We actually have lost half a million users who were connected to our Facebook page,” Marcos tells us. “These users have lost all their photos take with the Vintage Camera app and sent to Facebook.”

The reason behind all this, of course, is because Facebook has provided in-house options for you already: Camera and Instagram.

Vintage Camera offers 16 free filters, and four you can pony up and pay for. Instagram comes with 20, all free, and Camera has 15. Vintage Camera’s filters actually do an admirable job for a free filter app that isn’t Instagram – but Instagram still manages to edge out all the competition here. The way that Instagram creates and applies its filters is unique, and it’s what the team refers to as its secret sauce. Vintage Camera comes up short here, but only just.

Vintage Camera’s biggest problem is that images come out slightly manipulated, aside from the filtering: They are elongated, giving a stretched appearance. But it’s barely noticeable – certainly not something that deserves being pulled from Facebook.

The app does come with ads, but nothing terribly intrusive. It’s a poor man’s Instagram, it’s better than Camera (which has been integrated into the Facebook mobile app anyway), and it means you can filter your photos without also giving them to Instagram, if the ToS madness left a sour taste in your mouth. But now, of course, you can’t share these images to Facebook – a major hit against Vintage Camera.

Verdict: With no Vintage Camera option, you have the best alternative in the world – Instagram. But what if you don’t like the Instagram community? What if you don’t want your photos separated and promoted in a special format on Facebook? What if you’re just a holdout on mobile hipster culture but, you know, still want to throw that lomo-toaster effect on a picture of your dog? I don’t care what your reasons are, you can’t use Vintage Camera to do it.

You can, however, use Pixlr-o-matic, an app that does almost exactly the same thing as Vintage Camera, as well as the Aviary and Flickr apps. Actually, there are a variety of filter apps allowed to share to Facebook. (Until Unless Facebook decides to pull those, too.)

Goodbye MessageMe and Voxer, hello Messenger

fb messaging appsThe latest news peg in the “Facebook cuts off access to ___” topic concerns messaging app MessageMe. This week, the social network revoked MessageMe’s ability to integrate with Facebook to create user profiles and find friends.

Voxer also lost access relatively recently. The text and voice messaging app formerly allowed you to communicate with your contacts from one central location, and that clearly also included your Facebook friends. Not anymore, though. Because we have Messenger.

And Facebook has certainly been beefing up Messenger. You can communicate within Facebook, buzz someone’s phone (as long as they’ve synced it), and even make free phone calls and leave voice messages. Messenger also now has all the emojis you could ever want, which are a pretty big sell for outside messaging apps. It’s pretty all-in-one – save for the fact that you can’t everyone you’re contacting using it is also aboard the Facebook train.

Verdict: Messenger is a fairly fully-featured service. The problem remains that what the apps that have lost Facebook integration do is unite your contacts within Facebook and outside of it.

Goodbye Vine, hello … ?

vine appThere is nothing quite like Vine. The Twitter-owned app creates six second video loops that have a GIF effect and have shot to viral success, thanks to Twitter’s promotional support, as well as Twitter card support. Of course, Facebook took an eye-for-an-eye approach and disabled Vine integration shortly after the app was launched (the whole thing basically reenacted the loss of love between Twitter and the Facebook-owned Instagram).

The fact that Vine is owned and given plenty of PR push by the folks at Twitters mean that it doesn’t have to fear for its life like other Facebook-cut apps do. In fact, it’s been steadily climbing since launch.

 But where Facebook lovers lose is that there’s no real substitute for what Vine does. There are a handful of GIF-making apps that can soften that loss, like Cinemagram and GIFstory, which are both great in their own rites. But in order to interact and share with Vine, that content has to cut ties with Facebook.

Verdict: This one is entirely Facebook’s bad. It’s taking something away from users without providing an alternative or even a reason. The reason, as we all know, is because it can and it wants to and nah nah nah nah nah nah there’s nothing you can do about it. And there’s no way around it: That sucks. It’s a selfish, business-motivated move. There’s no function Facebook performs that Vine is replicating – but don’t hold your breath for Vine to break through into the social network anytime soon.

Goodbye Wonder, hello Graph Search

no longer availableWhen Facebook first introduced the world to Graph Search, we were among the first to sing the praises of what this very powerful engine could do. While some of us (me, it’s me, please seriously, give me Graph Search, Facebook) still don’t have this feature, it’s become a huge endeavor and turning point to signal the social network’s potential.

At the same time as Graph Search launched, Russian search engine Yandex had a competitor ready to go: Wonder. The mobile app used not only Facebook but Instagram, Foursquare, and Twitter to allow you to search for specific, personal information squeezed from your social-digital life. Well it tried to – because on day one, Facebook shut it down. The issue came down to a difference in opinion over what is and isn’t a search engine (Facebook says Wonder is one, Yandex says it isn’t). 

Yandex tells us that Wonder and Facebook remain at an impasse: “There was not any movements with the Wonder since Facebook blocked it. The project is frozen now and the team is looking for opportunities to partner with some other social networks who is able to provide an access to a  user graph via APIs,” says media relations manager Vladimir Isaev.

It’s hard to say what we’re missing out on here, because Wonder was shut down so fast there wasn’t a chance to get to compare it to Graph Search – and also, Graph Search hasn’t even been fully rolled out yet.

Verdict: Impossible to know yet, but one conclusion this does lead us to is that other apps that do Graph Search-type things, or want to … can’t. You could hypothetically create a personalized, highly contextualized social search engine, but without Facebook’s social graph. Which means, it stands very little chance of adoption. That’s simply too much data to create such a product without. 

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