Facebook's 'Quiz' App: When horrible spam is backed by the FbFund

I’ve been getting into using Facebook a lot more in the last week, spurred on by the need to prepare for my presentation during CeBIT’s Webciety event about what enterprise software can learn from Facebook’s incredible level of user adoption and engagement.

With its recent relaunch the “news feed” is now the most important part of the site. Reading through the feeds lately, I’ve seen a massive, massive amount of these crap quiz applications. Each of the quiz’es is a little different, but after setting a couple of dozen over a day or two, I started to see a trend and did a little digging.

Common thread: all these apps are running back to quiz.applatform.com

While the Apps all have different names, and none of them have an “about” page to tell you who’s actually behind them, there’s a common thread; they make the user click through via the quiz.applatform.com web address to track your visit, before they then send you back to Facebook and the request to allow the application to access your account details.

Trying to go to www.applatform.com didn’t get my anywhere, and going to quiz.applatform.com without the tracking ID’s just redirects me to Facebook’s homepage. Looked pretty dodgy to me…

Naturally, I then had a look at the domain’s WHOIS records, and these guys have gone to some extra effort and cost to obscure who’s really behind it.

Application Developers and many users are up in arms

After getting no love there, I did a simple Google search, and the results were damning: in the developer forums, people are up in arms. Some of them are clearly biased because these pernicious quiz applications are flooding the news feeds and using up all the “oxygen”, and are pointing out repeatedly – with interaction from Facebook staff – that these applications are breaking the rules.

I’m no expert on Facebook’s rules, so I’ll leave them to duke it out.

These app’s are user-generated applications

One of the interesting things about these applications and the crap that spews from them is that they’re user-created applications. The tool allows you to create your own Facebook quiz, chosing your own images, questions and answers.

As a result, every application is different, none of them have any checking by anyone, a situation that recently got one of the applications into trouble, in this case with the over sensitive Jewish lobby. (Side note: I wonder if there will be a powerful Palestinian lobby in 50 years since they’ve been the next people’s subject to a holocaust).

… but Facebook is protecting them; because they’re funding them?

One thing that came out in the Developer forums is who’s really running these horrible apps: HotBerry Entertainment Inc. Another more interesting revelation is that HotBerry is a Facebook Fund (FbFund) recipient, meaning Facebook liked what they were doing enough to issue grants to promising Application Developers. You can see the reference to funding HotBerry in the first round of funding back in July 2008.

With so many up in arms, the business/people behind the applications going to a lot of lengths to hide their true identies, you’ve got to wonder why Facebook isn’t disabling the tool that keeps spewing these things out. Is there a conflict of interest because they’re a FbFund recipient, or don’t they realize the damage these things are doing to the experience of users on the platform?

Do Apps have a future in Facebook?

In my opinion, one of the key benefits of Facebook over MySpace is the increased usability of Facebook’s cleaner interface. With MySpace, every page you went to (last time I looked) would start shouting some song at you as soon as the page loaded. Beyond this, the pages were almost impossible to read after users ‘decorated’ them.

Unfortunately, in most cases, the Apps developed for Facebook have detracted from this benefit of easy of use and lack of clutter, and have instead deliberately tried to get your attention and clutter your experience.

Then there’s the spam. Even more reputable applications like the TripAdvisor one where you list the Cities you’ve been to sent out two spam invitations yesterday to people I would regard as acquaintences, completely without my permission. These Quiz applications are nuts, jaming up news feeds and

What’s missing: the ability to stop Apps from ever appearing in the News feed

While Facebook has tried to deal with apps behaving badly through their changes to policies around invitations, the real answer is to give users the power to never ever see an application appear in their news feed, and to provide an option when the user clicks on the X to hide the message in the feed to be able to choose to block all apps; currently you can only block feeds from users or from a particular application; this new trend of having thousands of user generated applications makes this later preference ineffective.

So, Facebook, when are you going to make it possible for me to scrub every application notification from my user experience? I come to Facebook to interact with my friends, and applications have NEVER added value to that experience for me: can you please just give me an option to cut them out completely?

Embracing stalking with Latitude's public feed

Well, I’m not really embracing stalking, but as a user of Google Maps on my mobile, I’ve been pretty intrigued by the concept of Latitude. One of my biggest frustrations when it first came out was they the only way to use it – through iGoogle – was pretty poor.

In addition, while restricting the list to your friends list via Google Talk made sense if all your friends are GTalkers, most of my friends aren’t (I certainly don’t use it much).

Now, however, Google has announced that they are supporting the display of your location through Google Latitude to the public. You can choose how much detail to display (ie, not enough detail for someone to really stalk you, since this info is available to every anonymous freak who visits this blog, all 4 of you), and if you are that way inclined, you can use more programmy ways like a JSON feed to get this information out in ways that you can do something with it (I’m thinking of all the startup camp mashup ideas now…)

I’ve embedded my status on the right. What do you think? Is this going too far, or a really useful tool that’s just scratching the surface of what the social web, combined with geography, can do for us to make our lives more enriched?

Research: what makes Facebook so engaging?

I’m writing a talk for the Enterprise conference at CeBIT, which tries to unpack what makes people spend hours and hours a week interacting with and updating Facebook, and what enterprise applications – particularly those that benefit from collaboration and which are often “higher level” tools rather than lower level tools necessary for a narrow job function – can learn from them.

I’ll be sure to share my thesis for what companies and enterprise applications can take away from Facebook – and the things they should make sure they leave behind – back here on my blog, but until then I’d really love to hear from you: what do you think makes Facebook so very compelling that keeps users “hooked” on it? Please share your thoughts in the comments!