Yesterday, MySpace started showing off its new gallery of third-party applications that users can now start adding to their profiles and to their MySpace home pages. This gallery is the most recent of many ponderous steps that MySpace has taken in its quest to copy Facebook’s formative and market-leading developer platform.
Now, the hard part starts for MySpace: Improving the platform while it is live, keeping both users and developers happy.
I’ve been talking with a number of Facebook developers who are jumping in to build apps on MySpace. Overall, the mood is optimistic, but there are many issues.
But first, here’s a wrap-up of the state of things.
Even now, MySpace is trying to play it safe with unleashing apps upon its users. The app gallery is not yet prominently featured on the MySpace interface. Instead, it is a sort of meet-and-greet for applications and the random MySpace users who stumble in.
A group of MySpace employees are manually approving each new app. If the app isn’t approved, it’s placed into a “suspended” state, and its developers can’t work on it. “A big part of the developer community is not happy that they’ve been unable to fix or test their apps for over a day,” one anonymous developer tells me.
More generally, the platform is still not yet fully released, and viral channels — like notifications between friends about applications — are not yet available. So applications don’t have a good way to grow. In the words of SplashCast, a company that develops widgets for musicians on MySpace (via Steve O’Hear):
The lack of fanfare for MySpace is likely due to the fact that the MySpace Platform is still very much vapor-ware. The skeleton of an API exists, but guts are missing. For Flash application developers, there is very little social graph interaction & messaging enabled at this point. It’s a bit disappointing that even after 10 months of watching and learning from Facebook, MySpace couldn’t even bring a fully-implemented product to market — much less a game-changing product. There is no leap-frogging here, folks.
So there are no apps that have really taken off, yet. A quick look at the gallery shows that since yesterday, by far the largest application is the Project Playlist app created by the music-sharing site of the same name. Around 10,000 MySpace users have installed it. The next largest application, a poker game, has a third as many users. This isn’t surprising, since MySpace has been music-centric since it first became popular with indie rock bands and their fans in LA, and has become a staple part of most musicians’ promotions efforts (our coverage).
There are other issues. Sometimes when I try to load applications, MySpace fails to add them for me. Ah, beta software! Also, some of these applications don’t seem to work in Camino, my preferred web browser.
With the platform still not fully launched, questions still remain around where the viral channels for growth actually are — it’s mostly speculation at this point. On Facebook, those channels include the Facebook news feed on users’ homepages and mini-feeds on their profiles, as well as the application itself located on their profiles, email invites, notifications that appear within the homepage and even ads that appear in other applications.
Still, there’s been continual enthusiasm for MySpace’s platform among developers because MySpace is the largest social network in the world, and so far it has only allowed far less complex widgets to live on its site (our coverage).
Dan Peguine, developer of the Honesty Box Facebook app, tells me that thousands of his users have asked him to launch the same app on MySpace. So far, more than 500 MySpace users have added it.
Despite all the problems, this platform marks a great new opportunity for third parties to grow their own businesses, the News Corp.-owned social network hopes. It promises third parties greater access to its user data, as well as more strategic placement of apps within the site than what was previously offered to widgets. Peguine tells me he’s “bullish” about the opportunities on MySpace and more generally on Open Social, the standard for building applications that can work on multiple social networks.
Here’s my interview with Commagere:
VentureBeat: You have some of the most successful applications on Facebook, so what are your thoughts on the MySpace platform so far?
Blake Commagere: It’s a very different way to architect apps, so it’s a bit of a learning curve. In Facebook, you don’t have to think about synchronicity. In MySpace, you have asynchronous requests occuring and calling callbacks.
Obviously, the fact that they launched with [version 0.7 of the platform] is huge — and as soon as they add invitation support, I think it will explode. Additionally, I thought it was very interesting that they give you space on the home page, not just the user’s profile. With my first release, I won’t be taking full advantage of that, (I’ll simply display the same thing as on their profile), but I think it’s a very, very important place to reach out to users. One constant problem I have is showing people what’s new, and I don’t want to have something that reaches out to every user in an email, or pings their newsfeed. I can put things like “new feature — xyz” contained in the zombies box [for example] on their home page. I think that will make for a really cool user experience.
VB: Don’t you think Slide and RockYou still have a big edge on MySpace because they have all those widgets installed already? What about MS widget makers who never made it big on Facebook? Do you see them having an edge here?
BC: If MySpace allows [existing MySpace widget owners] to promote their apps using their existing flash widgets, then absolutely. I don’t have insight into what MySpace is or isn’t permitting. But yeah, it won’t exactly be easy to compete with some of these huge user bases. Of course, MySpace has never permitted advertising on the profiles, so this could arguably be considered a form of advertising and not be permitted.
VB: What strikes you as the most promising viral channels on MySpace?
BC: At the moment, I believe it is profile discovery/app directory. I haven’t tried their newsfeed integration, but if that’s live, then hands down it will be the newsfeed. And once invitations are implemented, it will probably be invitations.
VB: Some Facebook app developers say profile pages are where growth happens … guess you know different ;)
BC: Ah, I’m sorry, I tend to frame things from my point of view. For my apps — communication based apps that is — it is definitely newsfeed/invitations. For self-expression apps (think slideshows, etc) it is profile discovery. Mike Sego [one of the developers of popular Facebook app (fluff)Friends] has seen a ton of growth from profile discovery. He’s a great example of that.
VB: So are you more interested in MySpace and Open Social than Facebook at this point? (Note: See my interview with Commagere last fall about his early take on Open Social.)
BC: Heh heh. I love all my children the same. Obviously, I’m spending more time on MySpace and Open Social at the moment as I have to get something live. Depending on how well my apps perform, I’ll obviously spend the most time in whichever network(s) my apps perform best. If MySpace users don’t wanna be Zombies — crazy to even think that! — then I won’t keep trying to force it on them.