Guest Commentary: We launched Zapd yesterday to great fanfare — hundreds of users were signing up each hour and posting their Zap’s to Facebook and Twitter (driving thousands of more users). The traffic was insane. It was a better first day response than our previous two companies (ImageKind and Inkd) … combined.

Why is this happening? Honestly I don’t know. There are lots of comparisons to Tumblr and Posterous. Maybe all the news about the launch of Colors last week. Maybe just bubble-level hysteria around mobile apps in general.  I just don’t know.

Unfortunately, at 5 a.m. this morning the omni-present Facebook spam algorithm had enough of our success and shut us down: no more sign-up’s and no more wall posts for existing users.

Kelly Smith

We built it, they came, but Facebook pulled up the drawbridge.  They don’t really tell you WHY they do these kinds of things. App developers are left guessing.

What’s interesting is how they are set up. You can only apply for a 48-hour appeal — unless you know someone. Facebook really seems to prioritize those developers who are “friends of friends” within Facebook.

We sent out a plea for help to our network and everyone out there seems to know how Facebook works and now we’ve got 10 different emails going in to various places throughout the Facebook organization. Stay tuned on that.

Fortunately, because others fell victim to this problem, we knew this could happen and so we built our app in a way that allowed us to quickly implement a workaround.

You only get one chance to launch, and so no matter what happened we had to be live. We were up and running a few hours later. In the mean time, our many friends and colleagues were helping us contact Facebook to expedite the appeal.

The most frustrating aspect of the experience is that the Facebook shutdown came without warning, without explanation, and with a ridiculously long waiting time to address the issues. Also, it was total.

We get that Facebook may need to shut down spam but why shut down sign-in’s and lock out an app completely!?!  Was it because there were too many new users? Too many posts per user? Or something else? Facebook doesn’t tell you all that you need to know up front.

We’re still working on addressing this issue but here is what we’ve learned so far that we can share with anyone new to developing on Facebook.

  1. Don’t launch without knowing somebody at Facebook first.  Ask around.  Get a name first.  Build a relationship.  Because otherwise Facebook is notoriously hard to contact.
  2. Don’t rely solely on Facebook Connect to set up user accounts. We wanted to keep things simple and so we offered Facebook and our own system and although it made things easy it also increased the impact of the Facebook ban.  We’re working hard on adding Twitter and Google logins to avoid this problem in the future.
  3. Don’t blindly rely on the Facebook SDK. You’re literally handing the keys to your app to Facebook and your at their mercy. The code is open so read it, understand it, make it your own.

Have more experience developing for Facebook? Share it with the entire Seattle tech community, so we all benefit!

Kelly Smith is founder of Zapd, a free iPhone application that allows users to create Web sites from their mobile phones. [Editor’s note: Smith also is the founder of Inkd, which is one of GeekWire’s partners].

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  • Zapd fan

    Don’t be shy Kelly! Thousands of people are using Zapd because it struck a nerve and a need. Making a dedicated website with a phone is incredibly immediate and fun.

    Check out the flow of comments and Zapd sites that are being posted to Twitter via Zapd right now (and this must be a small fraction of the Zaps since not everyone wants to post to Twitter)

  • Zeljko Dakic

    I just switched to android, please release android app soon

  • Anonymous

    You’ve got to be very careful when you take a dependency on Facebook.

    My experience is a little dated (12 mos old) but having special access inside the company is critical to figure out what’s going on, which APIs work, what documentation is wrong, and how to get things working again. Their mantra of break stuff but ship fast means that you’ll break all the time (especially for newer APIs) and be scratching your head to figure out if it’s you or FB. It was almost as if you had to do a good slug of work to go through all the random issues that will come up to simply keep operating. Keep in mind it can make it extremely hard to recognize bugs, since it’s easy to assume the strange behavior you’re seeing is just FB being wonky again.

  • Dan Shapiro

    Ouch. I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be. Huge props for having thought through a failover scenario, though – that’s a brilliant thing to have done for both your users and your company.

  • Morgan

    Share Cropping sucks, as does the Company Store.

    Good luck; I saw the zapd launch, and it looked neat but not up my alley.

  • Kitty Meow

    Sorry to hear that Kelly, luckily we didn’t have that problem. Must be because we create localized apps, and not semi-dynamic websites. All from your iPhone, too.
    Love, App.Cat

  • Anonymous

    Cool idea Kelly. PS – I met the guy who programmed / was on the “Like” button FB team at SXSW. Seems like a big old FB party in Seattle to meet more of their people is in order FBBQ ?

  • Mitchconnor123

    Quit being a baby, your stupid app posts stupid things that people didnt want to see spammed all over their page. You fail so hard im not even going to waste time correcting my spelling and gramme r errors on this because you need to QQ + F10 Crai Moar ploz

  • Jacob Andersen

    facebook is a network effects monopoly that must be regulated.
    facebook is increasingly abusing their monopoly power.
    there is only 1 social network in america today.
    twitter is not the same as facebook.

  • burnedarch

    did anyone attempt to contact facebook first before implementing this relationship? from what i’ve read here it appears the app and launch went live without discussing with facebook first. ty in advance ^_^

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