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.


Twitter Use?

June 3, 2009

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Since then a lot has changed.  I completed my first full-time year of my MBA, added a puppy to my life and joined Twitter.  The first two changes are profoundly important, but Twitter has changed the way I operate unlike the other two.  I actually joined Twitter about 9 months ago; when I first joined I didn’t understand the craze.  Now I do.  I have three Twitter accounts; one personal (@eshooman), one for the company I work part-time for, and one experimental account (@munchmylunch).  I plan to promote my blog and partake in entrepreneurial chatter with my personal account once I have a better understanding of Twitter’s best uses, I utilize social marketing making announcements of new offerings and promoting other social media such as the company blog for the corporate Twitter account I administrate, and I use my experimental account for exactly that, experimenting.  My experimental account is where I’m really learning about Twitter.  I use best-practices and strategies I’ve learned from other tweeter’s blogs and the book Twitter Power by Joel Comm (@joelcomm).  This account focuses on food, so I follow other foodies, food press, chefs and restaurateurs.  Following others provides me with up-to-the-second information about Boston restaurants’ daily specials, menu additions, openings and closings.  I am currently working on building relationships by participating in conversations and initiating comments to others’ tweets.  My social network is expanding almost exponentially without getting up from my computer… with people I’ve never met before, but have always wanted to meet!!!  I am now holding direct conversations with celebrity chefs and TV personalities; providing helpful input they may never have honored if met randomly on the street.  Twitter is amazing for building relationships.  What else is Twitter useful for?  I like to break the usefulness of Twitter down into the personal, professional, and marketing contexts.  I have my own opinions, but would love feedback to understand how others are using Twitter.


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.


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.


Social Networking’s Future?

June 26, 2008

As I blogged after attending the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, the social networking boom amazes me. I continuously ask myself questions to better understand the future of social networking. Most of the answers are speculation, but with knowledge of the history of social networking one can formulate educated predictions. Please take a look at these questions and provide your predictions in the comments section.

Questions?

Is there a need for both formal and informal personal profiles? Will social networks provide users the ability to create multiple profile view options for select friends (personal view, professional view, family view)? (ie. A shared picture marked for friend and family view will NOT be available to friends with professional view access)

Will people join niche social networks? Or are niche groups on larger social networks sufficient?

What is the future for applications? What tools exist for application management? What are the wants and needs of people regarding application management? Do applications need social networks?

Will the larger social networks expand beyond their current services and release new products targeting specific customers (ie. Facebook Corporate Edition, LinkedIn HR Solutions, Etc.)? What is the future of corporate social networking and file & knowledge management? Will the established social networks enter corporate social networking and file & knowledge management?

What is the lifecycle of a social network? Why have successful social networks failed? What activities cause users to delete profiles?

The Ultimate Question: Will one social network become the “one-stop-shop?”

Interesting Statistics:

According to Compete.com over the past year the number of visits per month for MySpace is down 27% (buts still over 830M visits) while Facebook is up 36% (with almost 361M visits), LinkedIn is up 749% (with only 20M visits), and Twitter is up 8373% (with almost 15M visits).