Why Facebook Apps Suck

August 16, 2010

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.

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Entrepreneurial Innovation

March 2, 2009

Wow. I haven’t posted since 2008!!! I will not make excuses, I love blogging, and I am excited to get back into the groove. So much has happened over the past 2 months like the inauguration of President Obama, Sully the Pilot’s heroics, and hitting a 10 year low in the stock market. Over this period I’ve had some epiphanies, one which I would like to present today… that being, innovation is incremental.

Innovation is Incremental – Since August I’ve been working with a team of engineering students to develop a mobile application for a Fortune 500 company. We’ve had our ups and our downs. Recently we had an internal discussion regarding our goal; the question was if we needed to create an innovative interface or an innovative application? The application we began developing was clearly an innovative interface; all the content existed, the basic idea and concept is widely available via other applications, all we were doing was presenting it in a “cooler” manner. I hated this application, and voiced my opposition on the grounds of lack of innovation. Before revealing the idea to the sponsor company, we had an internal review revealing our application to a group of PhD’s. During the review the innovative interface application was bashed by the PhDs also due to lack of innovation. We had a list of 8 other applications we created, 3 of them which I considered innovative. The presented application was dumped. Our new task was to choose 1 of these 8 remaining ideas using innovative application as the main criteria. This is when I realized innovation is incremental.

People used mail before electronic mail (email), listened to Walkmans before iPods, and instant messaged before twittering. These are incremental innovations. While selecting a new mobile application to develop I was unaware of the incremental nature of innovation. I campaigned for the most innovative of the 8 applications, but my team pushed back saying the idea is a new paradigm, which is bad. New paradigms change behaviors, which is a risky endeavor (especially for a conservative Fortune 500 company). I became aware the most innovative application may be ahead of its time, and too far a jump from the current market. Eventually we settled on an application using current content, presenting it not only in a “cool” manner, but also in a different manner by mixing medias to create an interactive experience unlike any other. The mobile application we are moving forward with is an innovative interface and an innovative application, but without creating a new paradigm. The application marries two behaviors together in a manner never done before to create an incremental innovation with great potential. Taking the innovation is incremental approach facilitates us in delivering a great mobile application.


TBE Makes List of Top 150 Blogs for Entrepreneurs

December 6, 2008

The Boston Entrepreneur is proud to be included in Open Business’s list of Top 150 Blogs for Entrepreneurs. Being named in a list acknowledging TBE’s contribution to entrepreneurship is an honor.


The Power of Numbers

October 15, 2008

We’ve all heard it, to assume is to make an “ass” at of “u” and “me.” Making business decisions based on feelings, preferences, and observations are marred by biased assumptions. Strong businesses decisions emerge from fact; and there are no stronger facts than numbers. Quantitative analysis is essential to business decisions; it’s the power of numbers.

Quantitative Analysis – I have a simple process for performing quick quantitative analysis.

Step 1) Identify the Desired Destination – Know where you want the numerical data to take you, why the data will take you there, what the data can tell you, and how the data is working. Without knowing your destination, you may quickly get lost. Know your destination.

Step 2) Collect and Organize the Numbers – Finding the numbers is not easy. Choose whether to manually gather the data through surveys or to collect it from published (or unpublished) sources. If you encounter trouble collecting data, speak to a librarian (they are expert data gatherers and can be your best free resource). Once you have your data, organize it properly and you will get to your destination efficiently. Organizing your data can be as easy to choosing the order of the columns or as difficult as creating tables within Excel.

Step 3) Manipulate the Numbers – Now that the collected data is organized, can you get to your destination with the data in its current state? If not, then figure out what needs to be done, and do it. Make sure you don’t ruin the value of the numbers with your manipulations.

Step 4) Get the Facts – Use your answer to the question, how is the data working to get to your destination?, to apply calculations to the numerical data (collected & manipulated). The results will provide you with facts. These facts will be used to make your decisions.

Step 5) Don’t Take the Results for What They AreFinding patterns in large outputs is like searching for a needle in a haystack. The output of facts may seem sufficient to make your decision, but pictures tell a thousand words…

Step 6) Graph the Results & Make the Decision Graph the outputs. Graphical dashboards are valuable components of decision making because they show patterns that one might miss by just looking at the raw numerical facts. More outputs produce more factual support, but also more data and better graphs. Better graphs produce easily interpretable facts, which are used to make strong concrete business decisions. The graphs accurately get you to your destination.

Again, this is a simple process I use to make concrete business decisions. In the context of more time, resources, and risk, I would apply statistical and economical regression and forecasting to make stronger factual business decisions. The importance lies in using numerical data to provide factual insights in making business decisions, demonstrating the power of numbers.


We’re All Salesmen: The Power of “Why”

September 18, 2008

As entrepreneurs, at times we’re accountants, at times we’re marketers, at times we’re human resources; overseeing all aspects of our companies makes us feel safe. We wear many hats along our journeys, but with growth responsibilities must be delegated. We hire competent employees, and hand our hats off, but one hat seems to stick to our heads; the sales hat. To be a viable entrepreneur one must be passionate about his/her company. Passion is demonstrated by sharing ones company to inspire others. An Inspiring message is in essence a sales pitch. If you are a passionate inspirational entrepreneur then you are a salesman, even if you don’t realize it. For this reason, all entrepreneurs must study sales and build their own salesman’s toolbox. The salesman’s toolbox is a compilation of best practices learned through experience, study, and guidance. One tool every entrepreneur must have in his/her toolbox is the “why” tool. The most powerful tool in a salesman’s toolbox is the word “Why?”

Why is “Why” the most powerful tool? “Why” is a salesman’s most powerful tool because it’s the shovel that digs the truth. Asking prospects “why” squashes objections and uncovers the truth behind pushback, for an example I’ll take the role of a computer salesman trying to sell a computer to an 80 year-old hardware store owner named Ray. I walk in, greet Ray, and notice Ray is taking inventory… with a pen and paper! I think to myself, “great opportunity!” I ask Ray if he’s ever used a computer, he answers “no.” I ask “why?” Ray says, “I’m too old.” I wasn’t born yesterday, if my 90 year-old retired grandfather is able to use a computer, then an active 80 year-old hardware store owner sure can. I ask, “Why are you too old?” Ray answers, “I’ve never used a computer, why start now?” I reply, “Why not start now?” I’m filtering threw Ray’s smokescreens; I’m making him think. Ray says, “Because they’re just too complicated.” I respond, “Why do you think computers are too complicated?” Ray adds, “I actually tried to use a computer about 20 years ago. It was too complicated.” I just uncovered incredible information! Knowing Ray found computers 20 years ago complicated is no surprise, because 20 years ago computers were complicated! I dug the truth out of Ray by using the power of “why.” I uncovered the true reason why he objected to using computers, and I can tailor my sales message to show him the simplicity of using a modern computer. Now the easy part starts, all I need to do is demonstrate my passion and inspire him to purchase one of my computers.

People hide the truth. We don’t like saying no.  It’s human nature.  It’s OK.  The solution is to open your salesman’s toolbox and utilize your “why” tool.  Understand the power of “why,” use it, and inspire people with your passion to complete the sale.


Better Late Then Never: TechCrunch50 Review

September 13, 2008

In anticipation of next week’s EmTech08 conference in Cambridge I’ve been reading blogs about last week’s TechCrunch50 event from California. Many of the participants seem gimmicky, but few stand out as viable businesses. Yammer (the winner), and iamnews (the peoples choice award recipient) deserve recognition as the top two companies at TechCrunch50.

Based out of West Hollywood, California Yammer is Twitter for the business environment. ‘“Yammer is a tool for making companies and organizations more productive through the exchange of short frequent answers to one simple question: “What are you working on?”’ – yammer.com/about. Yammer should be used for collaboration, not as a tool to micromanage. If you see it as a tool to spy on employees then you either need to reevaluate your workforce or change your management style. Yammer is a tool for collaboration; allowing users with valid business e-mail addresses to discuss ideas, post news, ask questions, and share links and other information over private feeds; it’s instant messaging on steroids. Yammer’s entrance into the complexity filled corporate social networking arena is the first answer to provide a simple solution for business collaboration.

imanews is a simple idea: let people contribute to the news. Their about statement is clear: “iamnews is an open newsroom platform. We empower publishers and reporters by giving them powerful, easy to use tools for co-creation of news in real time.” iamnews targets bloggers and small publishers that don’t have the resources to create news . Web Publishers are used to ensure accurate reporting. If iamnews’ system ensures accurate reporting (and I hope it truly does), then it could be a competitive threat to the traditional reporting of AP and Reuters. iamnews ‘ competitive advantage is providing original and unique video and photography to current events, but I still struggle with their ability to ensure accurate news text. The availability of original and unique photo and video connected to individual news stories is enough for me to see potential for long-term viability.

There are other TechCrunch50 participating and demo companies that have viable products, but I chose to present only the two winners. Again, in my opinion many were gimmicky, but I strongly recommend you take look and share what companies you find interesting.


Technical Know How: Ask For Help

September 8, 2008

The summer is officially over; I’m back to Business School and back to the daily grind. After a weekend in the Cape (where I received one of the worst sunburns ever), I’ve begun one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever been a part of in my life. This school year I am working on a project with a group of five engineering students to develop an educational mobile application for higher education students. The con of the project is that I have to pay for the college credits earned while working on it, but the pro is it’s an opportunity of a lifetime. I hope by working on this project I will solve a question that I’ve struggled with in the past: How does someone with no experience in engineering create a technical product?

The simple answer is: He Doesn’t! No one person can possess all the information in the world; at times people need to call upon others to help. Repeatedly we see examples of leaders rounding themselves out by hiring complementary pieces. Two vibrant examples occurred in the past month when Barack Obama chose Joe Biden, and John McCain chose Sarah Palin as their respective Vice Presidential Candidates. Obama and McCain’s decisions were based upon choosing a partner who encompassed the characteristics and knowledge they lacked. As entrepreneurs we need to acknowledge that we can only be experts in so many things; we have time constraints and other areas that need our attention. I hope the 5 engineering students I am partnering with teach me as much as I can understand about the engineering and code writing needed to create mobile applications, but I know that I will never be an expert engineer or code writer. The 5 engineering students complement my marketing, accounting, sales, organizational, and leadership skills. I would find the task of creating a mobile application on my own almost impossible, just as the 5 engineering students would find bringing an emerging technology to market. The team dynamic of a complementary knowledge base is one main reason why I am excited about this project. I know I cannot create a sophisticated technical product by myself, so in a way I am asking others for help in this opportunity of a lifetime.