Facebook to report public app usage in tiers instead of specific numbers

Facebook today announced changes to the way it reports user counts for apps that integrate with its platform, providing a ranking and a user tier rather than monthly active and daily active users rounded to the nearest ten-thousand, as it did previously.

Monthly active user tiers are 10,000; 50,000; 100,000; 500,000; up to 10 million. Daily active user tiers are the same but stop at 1 million. These caps mean that an app with 11 million MAU and an app with 45 million MAU will both be reported in the 10 million tier, with only their ranking number to distinguish between them.

Facebook reports these figures in its App Center, within search results and via its API. The insights developers receive about their own apps will not change. This just affects what information is publicly available to other developers and non-developers. The change goes into effect on Jan. 16.

Although Facebook is taking away some transparency, this puts it more at par with how Apple, Amazon and Google display app rankings. Apple and Amazon’s app stores rank apps by category but do not share any download or usage numbers. Google Play ranks apps and offers a range for installs: 1,000-5,000; 5,000-10,000; 10,000-50,000; and so on. However, Google Play seems to go up to 500 million installs, rather than capping its tiers at a lower number to obfuscate the data.

Facebook seems to be making the change to prevent day-to-day scrutiny of app usage, especially for top developers. With the company now publicly traded, small changes can have a big impact. MAU and DAU numbers for apps often varied as the social network tweaked its algorithms, experienced bugs or faced seasonal trends, but the media often misinterpreted this data or blew it out of proportion. Most recently, the New York Post saw a dip in Instagram’s Facebook-connected DAU over the Christmas holiday and wrote a report about user “rage” and “revolt” following a proposed terms of service change. Facebook shares opened down 2.9 percent that morning.

Facebook has now stopped reporting any active user counts for Instagram since it falls under its family of applications. The company stopped sharing MAU and DAU for its other mobile apps like Messenger on Jan. 1, 2012, but it neglected to do this for Instagram until this week.

The new tiered reporting system doesn’t just protect Facebook’s apps. The change arguably creates a more hospitable environment for third-party developers, whose user numbers are no longer under a microscope from the press, investors and the competition. Developers can control the milestones they share and test things without worrying how user fluctuations will be perceived. It also means there is less opportunity for a developer to spot a rising app and clone it. However, the changes make it more difficult for developers to judge their apps’ performance compared to the competition and harder for investors and M&A teams to spot trends.