Mar 14

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

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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Comments: 2

  MattG [03.18.08 10:06 AM]

I actually find this research quite interesting. While I am no Facebook expert, I am quite familiar with the platform and would have never guessed that the most popular applications, were those designed to improve social behavior. The reason is, that if you were to do a search on Google for Facebook apps or even talk to a handful of people using the platform, you would find that the majority of what you see are people interested in apps that help you grow your business, market yourself or simply earn money through donations or other means. I know that Facebook started out as a social platform, but I would have guessed that like many social communities it has been turned into monetary traffic machine for peoples websites.

Thanks for the follow-up on this, the research did not go in the direction I would have thought, so it is interesting to learn otherwise.

  marco [03.18.08 10:44 AM]

It would be interesting to relate the social tools used with the quality of the contents produced. Also, to relate the tools with the users' interactions persistence and quality could be an interesting point.

Within the main needs the social platform address we could identify two of them: it gives a point of presence for the user and it gives the tools to communicate with other users.

The solutions achieving success are those able to create a world and some identification processes for the users.

I believe exists another step on merging the "virtual" world with the "real" one. It consists on working more on the initial concept. It happens too many times, while visiting the actual social sites, the social experience seems to me more akin to what was win3.1 for the DOS that the System 7 for the mac.

Imho the process has to introduce the virtual inside the real not the contrary. Too many times the users define the social platform a "parallel" life, and this could be a signal that they have some limits on becoming pervasive.


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