Shelly Farnham on What Makes Facebook Apps Work

As many of you know, last fall, we released a report entitled The Facebook Application Platform, with analysis that demonstrated that far from being a “long tail” marketplace, Facebook has very much of a “short head” when it comes to applications.

As a social scientist, Shelly Farnham didn’t think that was the end of the story. She asked if she could have access to our data set so she could do some additional analysis. We liked her analysis so much that we decided to publish it as a second report, The Facebook Application Ecosystem: Why Some Thrive–and Most Don’t.

Shelly just did a great blog post about the report, explaining some of what she found. Here are a few tidbits:

In reviewing the dominant types of applications, it is clear that most of the applications are helping users achieve social goals such as improved communication, learning about the self relative to others, finding similar others, improving self-presentation, engaging in social play, and engaging in social exchanges via gifts and media…

how fb users spend their time

In examining each application, we spent some time with the reviews and the discussion topics, expecting that applications that were more active would have more posts by users. We found however that reviews were not reviews. Rather, the review section seemed to be largely used for users to communicate with application developers, giving their feedback and reporting bugs, and to each other about the application.

The discussion topics section was used more for users to connect to one another. What was striking, however, was that both of these sections tended to be used to a greater degree when social applications (e.g., social games) did not provide a venue for verbal interaction within the game itself. The reviews then became overloaded with demands for the user-to-user communication required to use the application. These overloaded review sections, much like the overloaded horoscope or game discussion areas, reinforce the message that people come to social sites to be social, and will twist any application into an opportunity to communicate.

Good stuff, reminding us that social network applications are used socially, and that developers providing functionality that enhances social behavior are winning. These comments emphasize a basic web 2.0 (and open source) principle as well: users are co-developers. If you don’t give them what they want, they will hack your system, overloading its features so they get what you didn’t give them outright.

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