Writing a good Facebook application is hard

Just saw a very nice analysis done by Tim O’Reilly and his research team about Facebook applications.  A very small excerpt from his post called “Good News, Bad News about Facebook Application Market: Long Tail Rules

The good news has already been widely disseminated: there are nearly 5000 Facebook applications, and the top applications have tens of millions of installs and millions of active users. The bad news, alas, is in our report: 87% of the usage goes to only 84 applications! Only 45 applications have more than 100,000 active users.

A lot of discussion on in in the comments as well.  The Graphics provided show a very steep long tail, where really only a few companies are probably making any money on Facebook applications. Interesting enough, if I am a Facebook application developer I can easily get investors interested.

When reading through the post two things come to my mind:

  1.  Writing a Facebook application is easy! Writing an application that provides the user with such value that he will actually use it is,….. well, just like on any platform, hard. Don’t think about leveraging Facebook as a network or platform, think about providing users with value.
  2. The business model for a Facebook application is not a very positive one. According to this research there are only 45 applications with more than 100.000 users. I haven’t read the report yet, but judging on the data Tim provides, of those 45 there are few reaching more than 1Mln users.

I can’t help but think that there will only be very few companies that can actually create business models that are based upon creating value for the users on the Facebook platform.

So what are all those investors and developers doing out there? I can’t see this lasting very long in this way? Are we slowly closing in on a Facebook shake out, or am I missing the point here? What is your opinion on this?


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5 Responses to Writing a good Facebook application is hard

  1. If you’re missing the point, then so am I.

    I see very little value in developing a facebook application. Sure, the allure of potentially reaching many users on the platform is there and there will be much innovation, but at the end of the day it’s not a sustainable business model. You’re offering a free service on top of a free service! You don’t own any of the data or users, and Facebook is already adding features that compete with 3rd party applications.

    I view facebook apps as mere advertisement potential or a non-critical feature of your core product, that’s it. Maybe we both just don’t get it.

  2. Alexander van Elsas says:

    Well, considering Orkut and MySpace are opening up as well I will put my money on those that develop APIs accross all networks!

  3. Stuart says:

    I think the idea of a free service on top of a free service isn’t in and of itself bad.
    If a significant portion of you own user base is on facebook, then giving them an application which as you said add’s value to them, but also helps build your community is a worthwhile project. The cost of deploying a facebook app might be less than a stand alone solution and you can leverage the networking they offer
    I’m thinking about how I can do that

  4. The only business case for Facebook apps that I can see is as a hyper-rich form of viral advertising for a larger entity.

    For example, a site about cats may create an app that lets users show details about their cats to their FB friends – not going to make any money, but it will spread the word about the cat-related site and attract more users.

    Facebook apps for business are essentially just highly interactive, viral banner ads.

  5. Ole says:

    I think one must be creative and then it is definitely possible to write a good app. Well, the post is written in 2007, I found it only now, in 2011, so it’s easy for me to talk 🙂

    I just wanted to share a good example I found just recently – http://www.branchout.com – they want to build a facebook powered LinkedIn.

    I wonder how long would it take to create such app for an experienced PHP developer. Any ideas?

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