Young Passionate Entrepreneur (YPE): “I’ve got this great idea and I’ve done the research to prove that the market is $X,XXX,XXX,XXX big!”
Seasoned Internet Professional (SIP): “Sounds interesting. What’s the idea?”
YPE: “A website that finally lets people _______________ (fill in the blank).”
SIP: “Pretty cool idea. How do you plan to scale?”
YPE: “Easy. Events, SEO, AdWords, and connecting to Facebook through Facebook Connect.”
SIP: “Sounds like you’ve done your homework, but your idea SOUNDS LIKE A FACEBOOK APP.”
I’ve heard “Sounds Like a Facebook App” so many times, but are we really thinking the phrase through before speaking? Why does any new website that connects friends via the web always “sound like a Facebook App”? What if LinkedIn, Twitter, or Foursquare (all naturally sound like Facebook Apps) started as Facebook Apps? Would any of them be where they are today, even if it were just to test the concept? There are very few success stories for Facebook Apps other than Zynga videogames, which are the rare exceptions, but remember these are videogames, not Web 2.0 sites. Converting a website concept to a Facebook Application will set it up for failure because people don’t trust Facebook’s sharing of private information with 3rd party developers and Facebook Apps require users to commit to providing their sensitive Facebook information before allowing users to test the applications.
Facebook has become an information depository; users blindly place all of their personal information and data (no matter how sensitive) in their Facebook accounts, only controlling how others access this information via their Privacy Settings. Unfortunately, Facebook has demonstrated a pattern of privacy gaffs, creating an almost tangible distrust with its users. With updated Privacy Settings on an annual basis, and with new settings defaulting to “Public,” Facebook users don’t know how to 100% protect their sensitive information. Even though, users are presented with a warning of the exact information that will be shared with applications, they often ignore or distrust them. When connecting to a Facebook Application users often feel like they are rolling the dice, hoping that the information they view as sensitive remains private. For a user to risk sharing their private information with a random developer by connecting to an application a great degree of social proof must be demonstrated. According to the social proof hypothesis, Facebook users won’t sign up for an application unless they see their friends signing up. With all the noise going through newsfeeds, it will probably take more than 1 (probably close to 4-7) friends signing up for an application before you notice. The obstacles for a Facebook Application to gain the exposure needed to provide social proof for a user to consider providing their private information is immense. One may argue that the same exposure obstacle exists for off Facebook applications that connect to Facebook via Facebook Connect, which is different because of the ability to sample the application (build trust) before committing to providing sensitive data to the developer.
Facebook Applications require users to provide their personal information before trying them out. When a user identifies a Facebook App that seems intriguing, he/she may see screenshots of the application via the application’s Facebook Information page, but in order to tryout the application permission must be granted through the Request for Permission pop-up box. The Request for Permission pop-up box is where users usually change their minds, and decide that it is not worth the risk of giving away personal information to a 3rd party developer for an application that they haven’t even been able to try, and click the “Leave Application” button. With Web 2.0 sites, users often are only required to enter a username and password to gain access, and may add additional information to their user profiles at their discretion. Once the Web 2.0 site proves itself useful and trustworthy, the user may select to share their use of the Web 2.0 site by connecting with their accounts through Facebook Connect. Connecting with Facebook Connect allows the Web 2.0 site to communicate with the users Facebook profile, allowing the user to share information from the Facebook user account with the Web 2.0 site and vice versa. In many cases, users’ of Web 2.0 sites may share what they do on the Web 2.0 site through their Facebook newsfeed (which may even include a link to the Web 2.0 site) after connecting to Facebook on their terms via Facebook Connect. People understand that they must be more responsible with their Facebook information, and are becoming more selective with whom they share their information with; thus developers must first build trust with their users before asking for their sensitive information; a process that Facebook applications DO NOT support.
Selecting to go-to-market with a Facebook Application rather than a Web 2.0 site that uses Facebook Connect is not a small decision, and through the proper user behavior analysis it becomes clear that Facebook applications limit adoption because users are not willing to share their Facebook information with 3rd party developers before trying applications on their own terms. Finding examples of non-videogame Facebook Apps that have a large number of users has proven difficult. I welcome your comments regarding Facebook applications and what types of web applications are best fit to be tested and introduced as Facebook Apps rather than Web 2.0 sites.