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F8ce the music.

Facebook applications are declining in popularity; developers are to blame.

Are Facebook users beginning to tire of the tactics used by application developers to create virality?  It certainly looks that way.  The latest spammy tactic is to force potential users to invite others to use the application before doing anything of value.   The backlash over this tactic is mounting, however, and developers are caught in the cross fire as users begin to abandon applications en masse.

In just one month, the Facebook group No, I will NOT invite 20 friends just to add your application has accumulated over 60,000 members. Fed up users are congregating to discuss tactics.  They're naming names, with a list of Rotten Apple applications and repeat offender developers.  A small but growing number have signed a petition asking Facebook to ban forced invites.  

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The latest tactic?  Reviews.  Facebook's new review system for applications allows users to rate and share their ratings with others.  Some members of the group are giving 1 star to applications they deem to be repeat offenders.

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Whether or not this group's tactics will be effective remains to be seen.  However, concurrent with the explosion of meaningless Facebook applications, and the increasingly bad behaviour of those applications, users seem to have soured on Facebook applications in general.  According to Adonomics data, all of the top 10 leaderboard applications have seen substantial drops in daily users since peaking in November and December.

  Peak Today
Funwall 5800 2500
Superwall 4800 1800
Top Friends 2900 2200
Likeness 821 181
Super poke 1500 500
Movies 814 500
Compare People 1000 471
iLike 941 372
Causes 469 110
Superlatives 320 110
  all figures in 1,000's  

Facebook application developers themselves are uncertain of how to handle the situation.  Debate rages on the developers boards, with some defending the use of forced invites, and others decrying them.  Suggestions that developers build useful or richer applications are scoffed at by those who view Facebook as solely an entertainment platform for college students.  Some are asking Facebook to intervene, while others (presumably the creators of those spammy applications) are putting the onus on the user to reject the application. 

Meanwhile, all is well on Facebook itself, as growth continues (68 million active users in the last 30 days) and page views mount. Developers of Facebook applications, however, have reached a watershed that demands a focus on delivering utility and value rather than thinly disguised advertising vehicles.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • dige January 27, 2008, 7:24 am

    shut up

  • Ben Lucier January 27, 2008, 8:37 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with you Alec; Facebook developers are pushing "crap" onto FB users and then distributing their poor excuse of an application, virus style. I log on every couple of days only to find 20 new application invites that I need to ignore.

    At the very least, it would be nice if FB let me implement a permanent application block so I only need to ignore an application invite ONCE.

    There are some interesting apps out there to be sure (Wordpress, Twitter, Flickr apps for example) and it's unfortunate to think the entire platform may be brought down because of a vampires and werewolves app and others like it.

  • Graham January 27, 2008, 10:33 am

    Some of these spammy apps not only require you to invite 20 people to get in the front door, but require you to invite a further 10 or 20 later on.

    My viewpoint is that a Facebook App is freeware. Now I could download any Freeware program for my computer and none of them would force me to email any of my friends before allowing me to try the software out, let alone use it.

    I'm beginning to form a picture that money is exchanging hands at some level between Facebook and Developer, based on the number of users.
    And greed is encouraging the less scrupulous Developer to want to keep the "Invite 20" feature.

  • Shanna January 27, 2008, 2:39 pm

    Ben: You *can* permanently block applications. When you get an invitation, click on the name of the app, and on the right-hand side there is a link to "Block application"; usually under the big "add application" button. It takes a few clicks, but you will never again be harassed to become a pirate, werewolf, or vampire. :)

    Of course, it would be nice if there was third button in the invitation to block it right off the bat. Even better, a privacy setting to permanently block all invitations. Period. JMNSHO.

  • Alec January 27, 2008, 4:24 pm

    Shanna – I'm not sure I've had a lot of success with that option. I have blocked some apps, but it's hard to tell if it's been effective.

  • Matt January 27, 2008, 6:54 pm

    all is "not well" at FaceBook, when it come to the almighty $…..

    many users…many page views…absolutely unsuccessful at monetizing the user base…

    despite its much ballyhooed "15 billion dollar" valuation, to date FB has received only 300-400 million from Microsoft for a miniscule % of the company (i think around September 2007)…this culminated a supposed "bidding war" between MS and Google where people were talking about a 10% – 15% cash out to the tune of 3-4 billion…

    Google, which pays top dollar for anything it thinks valuable, has not bought in at all, and now with MS in, has most likely walked away forever…

    and now with the American economy in the shape it is, it is highly likely that FaceBook has missed forever its 'moment in the sun" to sell (i.e. summer 2007), and Zuckerberg and his VC buddies may not actually "cash out"…

    so 70 million users, so what?

  • Matt Sickler January 27, 2008, 7:01 pm

    I definitely agree that forcing users to invite others is counter-active. Users should not _have_ to invite others – they should _want_ to invite others. Any app that forces the invite page on the user without the user explicitly asking for it is not worth its salt. That being said, there are plenty of developers out there with plenty of apps that are actually pretty good that dont have an invite page or its hidden. Dont blame "facebook developers" as a whole for this. I had my own app (I say "had" because I no longer have time to support it) that never had invites until my users asked for it! Even once I added it, it was never forced on the user. Granted, I ended with a total of 260 users (10 active daily – my app was very very simplistic). If an app like that can generate up to 260 users without any form of advertising, news feed, or invite system then all good apps should be able to also.

  • Montoya January 27, 2008, 7:08 pm

    I just wanted to say that I saw this crap coming months ago and I even wrote up a "manifesto" which I posted here:
    http://apprevie.ws/2007/11/12/the-facebook-app-ma

    When I posted a link to it on the dev board, everyone just scoffed and shooed me away for proposing any kind of order or ethics to app development. Big surprise.

    The reality is that the developers who make force-invite apps are gaming the system so they can inflate their numbers and rip off advertisers and companies that buy apps. There's money in those numbers which is exactly why they do it. It's up to the businessmen handing them wads of cash to realize that any app which screws with users is usless in the long run and start investing more carefully. Until then, this crap is going to continue. I wanted to help the dev community become more ethical, to nip this mess in the bud back when things were still decent, but as long as developers are going to push me out of the discussion I'm just saving my breath.

  • luca January 27, 2008, 9:09 pm

    That's the #1 concern of most VCs right now.

  • Alec January 28, 2008, 5:01 am

    Montoya — very nice. I had a similar reaction to the first forced invite that I saw.

  • devin c holloway January 28, 2008, 5:20 am

    Alec, I agree with the popular consent that something needs to be done to prevent this forced viral SPAM. An invite to the "Perfect Match" application from a cute girl I know prompted a post with a similar tone from me earlier this month.
    http://nost.radam.us/2008/01/annoying-application

    I like how you took this one step farther by illustrating how much attrition a lot of these apps have experienced. Thanks for spreading the word about this annoying practice! :-)

  • Matt January 28, 2008, 7:41 am

    i wanted to correct some facts on my previous post. it turns out that 2 hedge funds each put around $250 million in FB in 2007, bringing Facebook's total 2007 cash haul to $750 million. (this definitely did not get a lot of press.)

    Here's an excerpt from

    (Conde Nast Portfolio,con)

    http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/

    (ed. note: critically, FB had expected 2007 revenue of only $150 million
    and expected 2007 earnings of only $30 million. It points out that a $15 billion dollar valuation entails a whopping 500 P/E (price/earnings) ratio.)

    "Hot on the heels of Microsoft's $240 million purchase of a 1.6 percent equity stake in Facebook—which values the social networking startup at $15 billion—comes word that the hedgies are getting into the action.

    Elizabeth Corcoran at Forbes.com reports that two New York-based hedge funds have each contributed $250 million to Facebook's current financing round—using the same valuation as Microsoft—bringing the three-year-old startup's cash haul to about $750 million.

    Facebook is expected to earn $30 million this year on $150 million revenue.

    In other words, three investors have spent $750 to acquire a collective 5 percent stake in a company that is expected to earn $30 million this year. As the Wall Street Journal's Dana Cimilluca points out, that values Facebook at 500 times expected 2007 earnings.

    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this is ludicrous. It's time for a reality check.

    Wired's Fred Vogelstein crunches some numbers to figure out what Facebook would have to earn to justify a $15 billion valuation, were it a public company.

    Assuming Facebook's stock traded at 56 times 2008 earnings—that was Google's P/E ratio shortly after its initial public offering—Vogelstein concludes that Facebook would have to have earnings—not revenue—of $270 million.

    "I think social networking will change the way the world uses the Internet, and Facebook certainly has an early lead in that race," Vogelstein writes. "All that said, for a company with current revenues of only about $150 million, virtually no profits and plans to double its staff to 700 in a year, $15 billion seems a little . . . er . . . frothy, no?"

  • Jim Mirkalami February 6, 2008, 9:38 pm

    I have been a frequent visitor of this blog for some time now, so I thought it would be a good idea to leave you with my thanks.

    Regards,
    Jim Mirkalami

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