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Never Again? Facebook - winning and losing at the same time

by  David Dwyer on  07/09/2015

The Fabulous & Frustrating Face of Facebook | An Inspire Case Study

When Facebook announced that they were to make some radical changes to their API, which would affect a number of different social plugins, we took note. They'd learned a valuable lesson from the Twitter API fiasco, which resulted in millions of sites across the World being dramatically impacted.

Twitter didn't do a good enough job of warning the development community, its partners or their customers, about the implications of the change. We had dozens of enquires from potential client’s contact us in a panic as the Twitter feeds that were embedded into their web pages were now displaying error messages.

We had already got our own house in order before this hit but not everyone was as diligent or quick to get this issue resolved. At the time I vowed that we would be better placed to handle those potential new client enquiries should a similar situation arise again.


Paradise Lost or once bitten, forever smitten?

Back to the Facebook API change. We again wanted to take a proactive approach to protect our client’s sites and their businesses. Here's what we did.


Step 1 - Review the guidelines

Facebook knew their brand would be damaged if they made the same mistakes as Twitter, so they produced a set of simple and easy to understand guidelines. We reviewed them fully as a team to make sure we knew what to do.


Step 2 - Identify at-risk sites

Next was quite a cumbersome process; that was difficult for us to automate. We had to spend time going through our entire client portfolio to identify which of them used the Facebook social plugins that would be impacted.


Step 3 - Put in place a scheduled update plan

Once we identified the sites impacted, we created a schedule to put in place all the fixes. Due to the number of sites involved, we had to reprioritise many projects to make sure we could perform all the updates before the deadline.


Step 4 - Tested the fix

As is normal practice at Inspire, we then tested the solution on a dedicated test environment. We do this to make sure we can roll-out any patch or fix with the utmost confidence.


Step 5 - Rolled out the fix

After our solution was robustly tested, the next step was to deploy the fix to all the sites we'd identified during step 2. We followed the scheduled plan and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

We'd achieved all this before Facebook's 26th June deadline. After a quick round of well deserved 'high 5's,' we then planned to get in touch with other business owners to see if they would like us to help them tackle the impending Facebook problem.

That's when we discovered that Facebook had applied an update to their old code that was rolled out automatically. On one hand, we applauded Facebook for taking responsibility to address the issue, which is certainly more than Twitter did. But I'm sure you can imagine our immense frustration. We'd spent so long creating and applying our 5-step plan. The time that could have been better spent in other areas. All Facebook needed to do was communicate the fact that they intended to put in place their own, automatic fix.


Waste of time?

Ultimately we work in an industry where the management of risk, for our clients and our reputation, is always at the forefront of our attention. It's just part of what we do. We deal in 'what ifs', and, in this case, the risk was that a large number of clients would have had a website, that just wasn't good enough. Visitors would have seen a site with error messages, which doesn't exactly breed confidence or trust. Their brand could have damaged.

The moral of the tale is two-fold. Firstly, never take for granted that any third-party plug-in that appears on your site will continue to work as expected. Whether you manage your site yourself or have it managed by someone else, it's critical that you check your site to make sure the plug-ins are still behaving.

The second moral - you can trust your site in Inspire's hands, or on our servers to be precise. We continually monitor all our client sites to make sure they are operating as expected. We have measures to automatically check for any attempted cyber attacks and we supplement this by undertaking manual testing when we hear of new vulnerabilities. And of course beyond that, we will always go the extra mile to protect you from any changes from third parties, such as Facebook.

For a proactive web development and IT services business that treats your business with the same level of care as our own, contact Inspire.


David Dwyer is Managing Director of Inspire Web Development. He has years of experience in a range of web and IT roles plus seven years in sales and marketing in a blue-chip FMCG company. David’s academic and professional qualifications include a BA (Hons) in Business Economics (Personnel & Ergonomics) from the University of Paisley, an MSc in Information Technology (Systems) from Heriot-Watt University and PRINCE2 Practitioner-level certification. He is also an active member of the British Computer Society, Entrepreneurial Exchange and Business for Scotland.


Follow Inspire on Twitter @inspireltd and @developersos

Facebook, Facebook Management, Inspire Web Development, Inspire Web Services, Social Media Management, Social Media Tools, The Evolving Web, Twitter API Issues, Website Management, Website Support
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