As social network application platforms mature, public application engagement data is vital for the overall health of the developer ecosystem and growth of the platform economy.
In the beginning of the Facebook Platform, Facebook published the total number of users that had engaged with each application. However, the company quickly realized that simply providing a total user number was a “rather crude metric,” and switched to providing daily (and then monthly) active user numbers instead. Why?
Facebook wanted to encourage the developer community to optimize for sustained engagement, not one-time use. By switching public metrics from all-time user counts to recent engagement, Facebook gave the developer community a kernel of valuable data which it could use as a proxy for success on the platform in a rapidly changing environment. That data has in turn bred higher quality and more engaging applications on Facebook – not to mention a significantly larger overall platform economy – than would have developed in the absence of these fundamental engagement numbers.
By contrast, however, MySpace (and other social networks) have decided not to share even this small amount of engagement data publicly. MySpace, in fact, still publishes only total user numbers. (MySpace also allows you to sort applications by “Recently Popular,” but that view is not very useful or clear – many of the apps at the top of the list still only have a couple hundred users.)
Why doesn’t MySpace make any engagement data public? It’s not clear – there has been no shortage of big internal changes at MySpace in recent months – but one possible reason is fear of embarrassment that the numbers are lower than Facebook’s, and thus developers might lose interest.
The ironically unfortunate consequence of not sharing that data, however, is that the developer community is blinded from knowing what is really working well on the MySpace Platform, and thus unable to iterate and improve the quality of MySpace applications very quickly at all. While some developers are having incredible success, it’s hard to know without going to the right geek events in San Francisco.
MySpace need not fear that developers are going to abandon ship – enough people know that MySpace app and game developers are making money. But instead of being able to optimize for what’s worked well since the latest changes to MySpace viral channels a couple weeks ago, developers are left guessing. There’s simply no easy way for developers to know what’s going on.
If I were running a social network platform, I would publish more data than either Facebook or MySpace share now. Sure, it could create more of a headache as spammers rush to copy the latest overly aggressive viral design. But at the end of the day, it’s a competitive advantage over other platforms. Would you rather have the top developers spending their day figuring out how to optimize for successful trends on your platform, or on someone else’s?
If developers don’t know who to look up to, they’ll inevitably keep running in circles.