Facebook Apps: Short Term Success, Long Term Failure

August 30th, 2007 | Categories: acquisitions, blogs, financing, launch, marketing, markets, networks, off topic, social media, strategy, trends

Facebook new logoAs Mark Evans points out in a recent post, there is a Facebook application “gold rush” taking place right now. Everyone and their dog is scrambling to launch an app to capitalize on this fad opportunity. Many are seeing astonishing growth – from zero to tens of thousands of users in a mere couple days. But is this truly sustainable? Even more importantly, is it really worth it? I don’t think so. But don’t tell that to Facebook or the application creators.

Anything that vaults to stratospheric popularity levels in a short period of time is bound to see a fall-out or backlash of some kind eventually. In this case, the novelty of apps will eventually wear off. Some may disagree, but I would wager that ‘superpoking’ and ‘throwing food’ are only cool for so long. Frankly, I’m already tired of all these ridiculous app invites after only a couple months.

The promise of monetization or a sale is what is driving this boom. But let’s be honest here – how many will actually profit from a sale or achieve reasonable revenues? My guess is under 1%. In other words, Facebook is almost creating a false sense of hope for developers. Subsequently, facebook profits from additional PR, user growth, and developer evangelism.

To me, Facebook applications are no more than a marketing funnel to an outside web presence. If you plan on making the app the entire business, you are walking a dangerously fine line. Forever more, you will be at the mercy of Facebook. If they decide to change course, you could be screwed.

My intuition tells me that the introduction of the developer platform was simply a move by the company to create short terms success and fuel PR ahead of an IPO or potential sale. Let’s analyze this further:

  1. Facebook launches the developer platform.
  2. Developers experience exponential growth and boast about their success.
  3. The press takes notice; widespread PR ensues.
  4. More developers jump on the bandwagon.
  5. A positive feedback loop is created: success feeds PR, which fuels further applications. Repeat.
  6. Eventually, a bubble is created as the app market is saturated and over-crowded. The dilution leads to a fall-out.

In other words, I believe that the developer platform is a short term ‘stunt’ to raise awareness and exposure for the company. Over the long term, I see the move as being more detrimental than beneficial. I, for one, am already starting to get disgruntled by the addition of clutter and useless knick-knacks. The Facebook crowd, for the most part, is an older group. Such silly applications should be left for the MySpace or hi5 crowd. They degrade the quality of the experience. A seeming endless amount of scrolling is now needed to browse most profile pages. Is this the Facebook that we all remember?

Note: I refuse to make any parallels to MySpace or Geocities just yet…

10 Comments

  1. david Says:

    I’m surprised by how accurate this analysis seems to me. I thought Facebook was just making a mistake with the Apps thing, but it seems wholly reasonable that there’s the possibility of cash driving it.

  2. Mike Says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m sick to death of getting requests for utterly terrible apps that have little to no use.

    What’s the point in having 3 walls? Seriously.

    Back to the point, excellent post. Solid read.

  3. Adam Says:

    I also agree with you there. My profile has a couple of apps but they’re just ones that offer a simpler way of showing what I’ve been up to. For example, the bookshelf app and where I’ve been, giving some more insight on myself to my friends that they may have not known about.

    I do agree that there are a lot of apps on Facebook that are just completely useless. What’s with the superpoking? I’m not even sure what’s up with the regular poking. It’s not a game of tag for goodness sakes. I thought Facebook was another way that people could stay in touch with other and maybe organize events.

    In joining Facebook, I was hoping to not associate with the users that are overrunning MySpace but they’re seeming to migrate. At least I’m not getting the sl00ty friend requests.

  4. John The PHP Encoder guy Says:

    I agree that the introduction of the developer platform has just created clutter for (mainly) useless apps and I think that the losers are mainly the users. I also think its a little crazy to develop for Facebook for a revenue stream – there’s nothing to stop them from changing the rules whenever it suits them. I don’t necessarily think that the introduction was to help with short term gain or an IPO – I genuinely believe they think its a good idea. It will definitely bring in more visitors and ensures that they keep a lead (?) of a differentiator on the other social networking sites. Also, this is a community site, so I think a strange virtual darwinism will occur and only the truly useful apps will survive. Hope so anyway!!

  5. Uno de Waal Says:

    You don’t think that because you are so irritated by all the apps, that gives it even more credibility? I’m also sick to death by them, but the mere fact that there are so many of them, and that you have to scroll down a few pages is a testimony to their success and popularity.

    If people were really irritated by them then they would remove them and you wouldn’t need to browse – sort of what John suggests.

    I also agree that eventually you’ll get apps that actually work. Although we must remember, most of the people out there aren’t geeks and actually want to see their grow their aquarium as opposed to sharing their RSS feeds etc.

  6. Lee Lorenzen Says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. The facebook platform launch as the first mainstream Social Operating System is a long term play that will be compared with Microsoft’s introduction of the first mainsteam Graphical Operating System. In fact, the ealry adopters to the platform have a chance to make millions on their apps because of their ability to gain a foothold in the social graph that is growing from 35 million to 200+ million over the next 15 months.

    Aviation didn’t seem so promising when the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk but it would have been silly to dismiss its future because you couldn’t see yourself learning to fly a modified glider. Fortunately, the rate of change in software is much faster than in airplanes and you will soon see incredibly useful apps emerging. Facebook’s photo, messaging and groups apps are already way better than their web equivalents simply because all my friends are on facebook (or soon will be) and they can all see what I’m doing without trying to coordinate via some long e-mail CC list.

    You can read more about this in my “Triumph of the Nerds — Part Deux” post at blog.adonomics.com.

    Thanks,
    Lee

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