They can't say they didn't have it coming. But widgetmakers are angry all the same about Facebook's decision to clone Slide's Top Friends application as a feature in its latest redesign. "It would be insane for a new developer" to begin creating new apps the platform now, says an executive at one of the many Facebook-applications firms watching the story. The exec says the VCs widget startups pitch for funding know it, too, and are closing their wallets. He blames Facebook's "new regime," including new COO Sheryl Sandberg and recently-appointed flack-cum-platform director, Elliot Schrage:
VCs already were asking why should I not worry about Facebook copying [your widgets]. But it was a theoretical question. Now, it is practical and amplified. I think that Facebook has really killed the potential for investment in the platform or the attractiveness to entrepreneurs. I am unaware of a single VC investment in a Facebook app company post the new regime (Sheryl, Elliot, policy enforcement). and now this will definitely affect matters. The last two VC investments I believe were Friends For Sale and SGN [Social Gaming Network] — doubt either investor is happy nor would they do the same deal again.
If our widgetmaker source is correct, it is bad news for at least two Facebook hangers-on — Zynga, a widgetmaker and SocialMedia, an ad-network for Facebook widgetmakers. Both are trying to prove him wrong by raising a new round of financing.
A source tells us SocialMedia founder Seth Goldstein spent last week in New York trying to raise $20 million. A VC in the community confirms he's recently heard Goldstein's pitch. Goldstein himself tells us, "We're talking to investors," but he wouldn't confirm the terms.
Zynga, which in January raised $10 million in funding from Union Square Ventures, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Bob Pittman, is said to have hired a bank in order to find more funding.
Goldstein says that those worried about worried whether Facebook's aggressive moves against Slide will stunt VC investment in startup widgetmakers should worry about top widgetmakers like Slide or its closest rival, RockYou, instead.
These guys wanted to believe there wouldn't be a long tail of apps on the Facebook platform. But Facebook wants lots of little apps relevant to lots of little groups. Two guys from Estonia will be able to beat a team of 45 top flight engineers. Facebook doesn't want three major developers taking over the platform like some kind of CBS, NBC and ABC. Top Facebook apps aren't all going to be made South of Market.
Remember, Goldstein's a Facebook bull because his business depends on it. But one way to read his comment is as a confirmation that no one — including VCs — should expect widgetmakers to turn into large media companies. There may be a future on the Facebook platform, but last year's frenzy that once led HotorNot founder James Hong to declare the Facebook platform "the new Internet"? It's over.