Category Archives: facebook

Is Noise Facebook’s Next Growing Pain?

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?

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Fickle Facebook Friends

Paul Kedrosky has noted Facebook user’s fickle adoption of the new third-party applications. Like any user-centric platform users can easily add or remove an application. This does lead to a high level of tire-kicking as Paul mentioned. What developers can expect then is an audience that approaches adoption with a try-before-I-buy mentality. In other words, the Facebook crowd is a savvy user base, fearless but harsh.

Therefore, when developers are planning for and designing their F8 strategy, it is important to remember what the platform was originally designed to do. Just read the home screen, “Facebook is a social utility that connects you with the people around you” (emphasis theirs). Facebook has done an amazing job with this charge. They have created a site that organizes friendships into a consumable product but most importantly they have allowed users the ability to express and extend their personality online. This is what keeps socialites glued to Facebook day in and day out.

A successful Facebook application will help to extend the user’s online presence. Whether it means providing a service that allows friends to add updates to a user’s profile (therefore reinforcing and augmenting the friendship) or increasing the opportunity for a user to express their individuality, applications that stick will understand and harness the behavior pattern of Facebook users.

All of the widely used applications do this. Applications with lasting adoption include the deeply-integrated feature-rich iLike, to the less serious Graffiti and SuperPoke, each complementing the user’s expectations of the network.

To win on Facebook, understand the network as a social facilitator, the user as an individual, and friends as reinforcers. Use these ideas in the way demonstrated by thriving in-house applications (e.g. photos, wall, and groups) and create real value within the network for a lasting business opportunity.

Getting back to the original point, users are quickly being bombarded with new applications, many of them adaptations of websites pigeonholed to the F8 Platform. What we see is these applications failing to gain widespread usage. Users rapidly evaluate a new application and determine it’s worth compared to canonical Facebook products.

Does your application help a person tell something about them self? Does your application help friends be friends? Don’t just dump content on their profile and think it will stay. In fact you shouldn’t want static content, encourage interactivity! Design for the platform, create a viral strategy, and keep your application in the user’s profiles.