At the end of March, Facebook Connect app friend.ly, a question and answer site designed to help you get to know your friends better and make new friends, hit a sudden growth spurt. It gained 2.3 million monthly active users and 247,ooo daily active users between March 24th and April 13th, according to AppData, our data service tracking growth and traffic for apps and developers
We spoke with friend.ly’s co-founder and chief executive Ed Baker to find out what changes the app made to inspire this growth, how the company is working to accomodate demand, and how it plans to monetize its audience. Baker explained how the growth was aided by the addition of a more compelling mix of questions, that scaling has been a serious challenge, and that it plans to offer premium features to help users get noticed and meet new people.
When users Facebook Connect to friend.ly, the site pulls their friend and Like lists, allowing it to pose questions to the user about the people and things they care about. Other social Q&A services such as Badoo, whose explosive growth we covered last month, focus on asking questions about a user’s friends. Friend.ly’s integration of on the interest graph allows it to know if you Like “Skiing” and therefore ask relevant questions such as “Where’s your favorite place to ski?” This ensures each user’s experience is personalized, leading to more engagement and sharing
Baker tells us that friend.ly’s 10-person Mountain View, California team had kept their heads down “focusing on product for the past year, and just a month ago started focusing on growth.” Friend.ly analyzed data about what questions were being answered, shared to Facebook, and commented on the most to determine what topics it should add more questions to. It also noticed how different types of questions led users to share answers to their own wall, the walls of friends, and Page walls, and worked to intersperse these question types so users could share multiple answers per session without clogging up a certain channel.
The company noticed that the speed and reliability of the site were proportional to engagement, so it strived to make the site process answers and ask new questions as quickly as possible through daily infrastructure improvements. All of these changes combined to result in sizable growth, especially amongst users in the US and U.K.
But now the friend.ly team is scrambling to keep the site up and loading swiftly, spending the $5 million in funding it received from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Balderton Capital and angel investors including Ron Conway, Jeff Clavier, Naval Ravikant, and Michael Birch. Performance has dipped slightly over the past few days, with some pages loading slowly, bugs arising, and the service amassing a backlog of user Like lists that still need to be processed before those users can be asked questions about their interests.
Service is stabilizing now, though, and the company can start turning its attention to how it will generate revenue — something it has yet to tackle. Baker tells us that similar to some dating sites, friend.ly may soon give users the option to pay for added visibility, the ability to send messages to people who aren’t their friends, or know who has been browsing their profile. What sets friend.ly apart from sites like Zoosk and Match.com is that those sites are specifically for dating, and therefore have to pay a lot for advertising in order to gain new users. In contrast friend.ly’s less overtly romantic purpose and the use of Facebook’s viral channel help it gain users organically.
Some might assume that friend.ly would work better as a Facebook canvas app where virality is close at hand than as a Connect site, but Baker wanted the ability to customize the look and feel of the product. Friend.ly also wanted the option to easily pull in information from other social networks such as Twitter.
Perhaps surprisingly, friend.ly doesn’t have a plan to use the wealth of data it’s stockpiling as a core part of its monetization strategy. Instead, Baker believes the product is a success if it can use that data to lead people to become Facebook friends, or even friends offline. “The way people become friends in real life is inefficient. It can be fun and interesting to meet people online, but most dating sites aren’t that fun.” By creating a informal, fast-paced atmosphere where users can meet by asking each other compelling questions, friend.ly has created a service that Facebook users enjoy, and may be willing to pay for.