[Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed piece by Kevin Barenblat, co-creator of SpotDJ]
Facebook and its developer platform f8 are the hot topic of conversation among many in Silicon Valley since its launch May 24. The site is quickly growing up, as folks 35 and older now make up almost half of the site’s new recruits. Conferences around Facebook are beginning to appear as the company talks of becoming the Social OS and rebukes buy-out offers to attempt a public offering.
Amidst the hype and confusion, myths about Facebook abound. And so it’s with that in mind we share with you many things that you probably don’t know about the development platform:
‘8 Secrets of f8’
App names are not unique: Want your own Top Friends, Video, or iLike? Make one! App names are not unique. (URL’s are, but nobody looks at those anyway.) There are two Graffiti apps, and three Fortune Cookie apps, for example.
It’s crowded: There are now over 3000 Facebook apps, and 70% of Facebook users already have apps on their page. And with over 100,000 people signed up as Facebook platform developers, expect many more apps on the way. Standing out in the crowd isn’t easy.
Initial gold rush is over: Nine of the top dozen apps are owned by Slide (4), RockYou (4), and Facebook (1). Success in the land grab has led companies like RockYou to rent their audience to others attempting to compete. For example, despite its enormous size, Yahoo had recruited only five thousand users for its Music Video app in its first month. Enter a deal with RockYou and the re-launched app grew to the second biggest music app with over 750k users in 3 weeks.
It’s not inherently viral: Many developers believe that if they launch a Facebook app they’ll quickly acquire a million users. In reality, only 42 of over 3000 apps have over 1M users, and only 150 have over 100,000 users. In the initial days following the launch of the platform, early applications took advantage of unlimited messaging policies – really no more than spamming friends – to grow quickly. Facebook quickly added restrictions to messaging that pushed those early days of explosive growth into the past. Despite additional restrictions, much of today’s app growth continues to come from integrated application invites (now limited to spamming 10 friends daily) rather than truly viral features.
NFO is the new SEO: News feeds that appear whenever a users adds or interacts with an app are one of the most important marketing channels freely available on Facebook. Many applications count on news feeds to drive growth among the users’ friends. However, activity among Facebook’s 33M+ users (half of whom log in daily) generates trillions of news feed items. To provide the best user experience, Facebook culls those down to a digestible number of feed items it thinks will be most interesting to you. The result is that less than 0.2% of possible news feed items actually show up in feeds. And because news feeds are one of the best ways to reach out to users, expect a News Feed Optimization (NFO) industry to develop just like Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Money talks: Actually, there are ways to break the NFO game. Application Promotion Sponsored Stories, as Facebook calls their ads for applications, provide persistent impressions (a news item stays on a user’s homepage feed in prominent 3rd position for 24-48 hours). Sponsored stories don’t adhere to the 0.2% rule. In fact, Sponsored Stories are exempt from user preferences, so even users who have explicitly set preferences to not get a particular kind of news feed will get them. Companies such as Slide, RockYou, and iLike that quickly became the largest app developers differentiated themselves from the other 65 developers at launch by participating in this paid marketing program.
It’s fate: Why is the development platform called f8? Is f8 is an abbreviation for the 8 letters in Facebook, or reference to the ‘oo’ in the second half of the name, or maybe the infinite number of possibilities of what app developers might create? Apparently it’s none of those things, as f8 is a reference to fate, a sign of the hubris at Facebook.