Facebook Apps – Virality vs. Engagement

As you probably know, Facebook announced two weeks ago a huge roadmap of what’s coming to the FB Platform in the next 6 months. It quickly became a disturbing news for all the Million Facebook Developers out there… (according to Facebook Statistics revealed in the last FB Garage in SF).

Not only the 350.000 applications delivered during the last two years won’t work in the next couple of months months, but also the developers of those apps now will have to learn how to replace the original app features to something else, using the new viral channels, new API implementations, new methods, parameters, variables, and so on…

Not even mention clients who now need to pay extra money for closed projects to keep them living, all of these within 6 months, but wait, only two weeks after the announcement there are things that are no longer working, such as feed templates registration.

That said, I think there’s (at some point) a Good Reason about why Facebook is doing this to all of us. There are a couple of interesting points that I see as a great result on the Platform Refactor that we’re living right now, and I want to share one of them with you.

As a Start, what I call the “comments linking”. Suppose that you have some kind of content on your application, let’s say you have a Trivia game and you save people results. The way it worked so far, basically you could have a comment box associated with a “comment ID” related to some content (“the trivia result”). In addition to that, we also had a feature that allowed us to publish a Feed Story related to some kind of user action (made inside the application) to the users’ wall, such as beating a friend on a challenge. Both comment box & feed publisher were great tools, but all the likes, shares and comments made on the feed story weren’t reflected to the comment boxes and vice-versa… and that was pretty much disappointing.

With the new upcoming changes, we will be able to relate those tools to a certain “content ID”, which I believe it will definitely EXPLODE the virality of an app, absolutely more than the spamming notifications. If we are able to merge all the comments, likes and shares over the same content, it will definitely take less to appear as a hightlight on the new feed helping the user to remember about our app constantly!.

Perhaps we will need to start thinking on doing more serious apps based on user generated content”, instead of Viral Channel Spamming Apps which was the preferred model by many developers around the world during the last year.

The way developers were doing some money when the platform was released was providing virtual currencies and using micro-payments, but it was a hard and expensive job to develop those applications. A year ago people started this new revenue model that was based on generating lots of page views (exploding viral channels to the most) in order to get more money from ad networks.

I think behind this refactor made by facebook, basically they’re looking to go back to the first apps model which brought them high quality and engaging applications instead of the 1 day coding apps based on the second model.

I know virality is key to success, but once you get those million users on your app, what will you do to generate more page views?

A couple of months ago, I developed a viral application to study the way small apps grow, and it that took less than three weeks to get 2 million users using the app, and it took us 4 – 5 weeks to loose all the traction it gained during the initial three weeks.

Why is that possible? because the application basically did not allow you to do anything but clicking on a button to get more friends, and publishing stuff to the user’s wall.

And we found something interesting, the “One Action Applications” is a proved concept! Believe me, there’s some people out there who fell annoyed when you offer them lots of things to do inside an app. So, when they find that the only thing you can do is publishing something to your wall… well, you will pretty much feel like doing it, cause there’s nothing else to do, It’s Crystal clear!

That was our application model. We gained virality because each one of them published the feed story, but right after they clicked on the “Publish Button” they were GETTING BORED!

So, we gained virality, BUT were did all that go ?? nowhere! we lost them!. Somebody said once: “There’s only one time to give a first good impression”.

The good thing on this equation is that there’s a “collateral benefit” that about 5% of users which used the application and got bored of it, BEFORE forgetting about us they leaved us a gift, They Pressed the RED Button (some to speak…) they became fans of our App. So, you must be asking yourself what is the pleasure of having bored users on your boring application profile… and I say, You Probably don’t have them Engaged with you, But they’re engaged for sure, cause now you will be able to share with them all the new applications that you will be releasing.

As a conclusion, viral based applications don’t usually have a long term relationship with their users, but they’re definitely a great marketing channel for new applications which still makes it an interesting business for some companies. On the other hand, Engaging applications are clearly what Facebook is looking for, and developers will find more and more tools to keep fluid communications with their users as the platform’s community grows day by day.