OAuth of Fealty

Ian Bogost:

The Facebook Platform is a shape-shifting, chimeric shadow of suffering and despair, a cruel joke perpetrated upon honest men and women at the brutish whim of bloodthirsty sociopaths sick with bilious greed and absent mercy or decency. Developing for the Facebook Platform is picking out the wallpaper for one's own death row holding cell, the cleaver for one's own blood sacrifice.

Like the catcall of "whore" or "crook," the Facebook Platform passes judgement before you even signed up for it. The Facebook Platform is the relief promised under the pressure of thumbscrews. If you were innocent, why did you start using the Facebook Platform in the first place?

Developing for the Facebook Platform is punishing oneself for the corporeal scars of abuse. Maybe it's me, maybe it's me, Facebook devs whisper quietly, alone, every Tuesday, before heaving the deep, lumbering sighs of resignation beyond sorrow.


The short truth is this: Facebook doesn't care if developers can use the platform easily or at all. In fact, it doesn't seem to concern itself with any of the factors that might be at play in developers' professional or personal circumstances. The Facebook Platform is a selfish, self-made altar to Facebook, at which developers are expected to kneel and cower, rather than a generous contribution to the success of developers that also happens to benefit Facebook by its aggregate effects.


Software development has changed a lot in the last twenty years, to be sure. The rapidness of web distribution has made older development practices seem quaint and antiquated. But something that's not antiquated, or shouldn't be, is providing a service that does what claims, that provides more value than it takes back, and that earnestly cares about the way it gets used, not just about the fact that its use can be sufficiently assured so as to obviate concern for its quality.

It's well documented that Facebook allows its developers unusual permission to push experimental updates live, and that the company has internal propaganda posters with mottos like "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" I wonder, what would be different if the posters read, "What would you do if you cared about the result?" Then again, that's not exactly fair, since it's clear that Facebook's leaders and employees care a great deal about the output of their work insofar as that output pleases and benefits them until their equity vests. So perhaps a different compass bearing: "What would you do if you cared about someone other than yourselves?"

That's what building a set of tools made for others ought to be all about. Self-effacement. Facilitating the goals and successes of others by means of an apparatus or implement, rather than making every touch and strike of that tool return some favor or back-pat to its creator. The problem is, corporations today (and tech companies in particular) are too selfish to care. Software platforms aren't made for making things anymore. They are made for pledging fealty to a technology king.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

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8 Responses:

  1. David M.A. says:

    And there's some jackass in the comments talking about "market forces" and "if it's so bad, make something better".

  2. jal says:

    In the mean time, most of us just build a business. You know, something humans might like to populate.

    Apparently, that is a somewhat novel concept.

  3. Mark Crane says:

    Ian Bogost and JWZ are kindred spirits. It made me so happy to see this here.

  4. James says:

    In the future all programming will be adversarial, and the only way to survive will be by paying protection money to your platform providers. Want in to the Apple Store? Tim Cook needs some more lobbyists to let him borrow against his unrepatriated tax haven deposits. Like Android? Pay the popular apps consortium or face unexpected thread deadlocks. (It would be a real shame if some process locked the database when they noticed yours was winning.) Want to run on Windows Plaque? Gates needs a mid-population village to try out his new nuclear reactor design on. Thinking about developing for the interwebs? Better hope you don't match the nightly's definition of popup malware.

    • Pavel Lishin says:

      Hah, like the future will run on a nightly cycle.

      "Your software has been flagged as malware, and you have not complied with our takedown request during the generous five-second interval. The Googleswarm has been dispatched to apprehend you; please stand by."

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