Facebook just dropped a love bomb on the app developers who play a crucial role in the social network's health, yet whose relationship with it is often fraught with tension.
The tension reliever's name is David Weekly, who starts work on Monday on the Facebook Platform team. That group runs the tools which allows third-party developers to access the social network for their own apps — like friends' lists and posts on the News Feed — and oversees Facebook's relationships with those developers.
Weekly is a startup founder who's known for organizing coding festivals and creating Hacker Dojo, a sort of community center for developers in Mountain View, Calif.
A friendly acquire-hire deal
Weekly most recently ran a startup, Gaston Labs, whose main product was Ohana, a service for creating photo newsletters. Ohana is shutting down, and Weekly and a co-founder, Nathan Schmidt, are joining Facebook. (A third co-founder, Tamiko Rast, is not joining Facebook.)
Here's how the Ohana team described it in an email:
In the process of thinking about how best to facilitate sharing we ended up in discussions with Facebook and we're excited to announce we're joining Facebook starting Monday the 25th. Consequently, we'll be winding down the service in the next few weeks.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that it had hired Weekly and Schmidt: "The talent behind Gaston Labs has a long history of building great social products and a passion for working with developers We're excited for them to join Facebook and look forward to seeing what they will accomplish."
Facebook is not acquiring the company.
That makes the deal what's known in Silicon Valley as an "acquire-hire." Those transactions can take many forms but generally happen because a larger company wants to absorb some or all of a startup's employees, with or without buying their company.
It's a bit of a letdown for fans of what Business Insider named one of the 25 hottest startups in Silicon Valley a year ago, largely on the strength of Weekly and Schmidt's resumes. The pair previously co-founded PBworks, a group-collaboration service.
Weekly, who's known for his self-deprecating wit, posted a Dilbert cartoon on Facebook just last week which made fun of acquire-hire deals . (His thought-provoking essay on why startups are dumb, and that's actually a good thing, is also a must-read.)
Why Facebook needs to restore its romance with developers
How Facebook snapped up Weekly isn't the key question, though: it's what he must do now for the social network.
While Facebook has had several talented executives running its platform efforts, not since Dave Morin, an early Facebook employee who's now CEO of Path, left the company three years ago has it had such a charismatic figure who's likely to be seen by developers as one of their own.
In its early days, the Facebook platform was seen as a level playing field for app developers. Now, many developers are frustrated by Facebook's ever-changing policies.
Facebook is blocking services it deems competitive from accessing features like users' lists of friends — a trend that began with Twitter, back in 2010. More recently, Facebook cut off a social search service from Russian search engine Yandex; Vine, a video-sharing app from Twitter; and MessageMe, a messaging app.
Facebook has also changed the frequency and prominence with which updates posted by apps appear in users' feeds and profiles. Zynga was hard-hit last year when Facebook altered its algorithms, though other makers of social games managed to ride out the changes. As a result, Zynga is pulling away from Facebook.
And Facebook has even cut back on F8, its quasi-annual conference for developers it launched along with the Facebook platform in 2007. None was held last year, and no date has been announced for a new one. (Facebook has continued to hold smaller events and send personnel to attend industry events.)
As mobile-device usage grows, app developers have gained more options for distribution. On the desktop, Facebook had no real challenger which could deliver anywhere near the level of user signups and traffic it could to apps that chose its platform. But Apple's App Store and Google Play offer new channels for acquiring users.
Facebook's best hope in mobile is to court developers, pushing mobile-app installations through its App Center, a curated directory of Facebook-linked services, and ads which encourage users to download apps. Indeed, many of Facebook's own events now focus specifically on mobile developers.
Against this backdrop, Weekly has a big challenge. But the gregarious and hyper-connected Weekly seems like the perfect person to win friends for Facebook.
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