Bill Erickson has an interesting take on the effects of Facebook applications on the site’s userbase.
A change has happened at Facebook and not many have noticed it. As the VC’s and entrepreneurs have become more connected to facebook, the average user (a college student) has become more disconnected.
Facebook as a replacement for TV? It was that 2 years ago, it isn’t any more. As a college student and an entrepreneur (like everyone else in the world, I have a facebook app being released next week) I’ve seen the change happen. Last year, whenever we – and by we, I mean college students – were bored, we’d get on facebook and browse around for a while. Check out some photos, browse friends profiles…just bounce around on facebook for an hour or so.
But now, facebook has added so much stuff that it isn’t an exploring tool anymore – they’ve optimized it to a point where I don’t need to explore. Instead of spending hours jumping around on friends profiles, i can take a quick look at hte news feed. I get text msgs and emails whenever I get a message, tagged in a photo, or any other “actionable” item. I’ve found I only go to facebook now when I need to act on one of these “actionable” items; e.g., receive a message, wall post, tagged in a photo.
And it’s not just me. I’ve been talking to a lot of college students because I want my facebook app to succeed. It had almost been finished before they released the platform – it originally used the API – but rebuilt it using the platform, which delayed the launch.
Anyway, almost everyone I’ve talked to has said the facebook apps now are out of hand. One person even said “someone should build a facebook like it used to be, no one wants this new facebook anymore but there’s nothing else that’s better.” Facebook is becoming like digg – too much noise for exploring (ie, TV replacement), but it still works well as a communication platform. So, we are now using it as a replacement for email, IM and the like.
I’m not saying facebook is going anywhere – it is still the best communications platform out there. It has most of my social network already plugged in and I can’t take that to another service (unless it’s built into facebook). But those 250,000 users your application has, they are mostly the same 250,000 users all the other applications have. The vast majority of students aren’t adding any applications. With the huge stream of options, they just blocked the whole thing out.
It’s going to be much harder for my application to get critical mass at my university because the majority of people just won’t look at the application – even if it would be extremely useful to them. People have told me they would have loved my service back before the facebook platform, but now it’s just going to get lost in the noise.
There are other thoughtful comments on Brad’s post linked above. Other bloggers such as Fred Wilson see the signal to noise ratio as a problem, too.
Though Facebook’s userbase is currently less than a quarter the size of MySpace’s count, it is clear, even to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, that Facebook is the in and MySpace is out. However, even with this momentum, could these applications mean a quick downturn in Facebook’s touted user activity levels and a loss of focus from their core product?