Facebook's Virality Squashed?

Valleywag has the story directly from a platform developer stating that Facebook has placed restrictions limiting how viral an application can become. One of the primary sources of data that this developer uses to express his frustration with how viral an application can be is that 1% of the last 500 applications approved have over 100,000 users. This is truly some funny math. While it may be true, how many developers can expect their totally useless application to be rapidly adopted by hundreds of thousands if not millions of users? Not many. It is truly time for developers to lower their expectations. I can understand Facebook’s rationale behind their decision to limit the number of invites.

Top tier applications with large feature sets sell them self. They are not at the mercy of user invites. When I see that one of my friends added an application to their profile, that is my primary reason for adding an application. Well maybe not me personally given that I am constantly browsing the never ending supply of new Facebook applications, but most users. I have seen way to many applications listed that aren’t worth the time to cover. Other blogs (which will go unnamed) may not be as picky but I surely am not going to cover the majority of these applications. Bottom line, crappy applications no longer have a chance. The land grab of weeks of ago is rapidly coming to an end.

The developer states the following:

Put in other terms, the largest application (Top Friends by Slide, which has 7 million members) has several times more members than the last 500 apps combined.

Duh! It takes time for an application to get adopted. Unfortunately there have been more and more ridiculously pointless applications coming out from one man shops. One man shops are going to begin facing some much bigger competition. The next argument of this Facebook developer is as follows:

But the other reason for this dramatic decline, and this is what pisses me and a lot of other developers in the Valley off, is that Facebook just recently unceremoniously undercut the very thing that was driving the virality of most the initial applications , which is the ability of people to invite all their friends to an application.

Like I previously mentioned, the virality of an application is ultimately not determined by how many people are invited, but how useful the application is. If your application isn’t useful and 10 million people have it, it won’t stay that way for much longer. The last issue that the Facebook developer had is below:

In a related minor but hugely impactful move, Facebook also recently started asking users if they want each application to appear in their news feed, on their profile, or on their side toolbar when they add an application, causing a lot of people to opt-out of this.

Umm … wasn’t this already there? If not I’m glad it was added. For my own personal privacy sake I would like to have more control of how applications interact with my profile. That’s the bottom line. Finally, this particular developer expressed his rationale for his frustration:

The reason this pisses me and many other people I’ve been talking with over the past day or so off is because dozens if not hundreds of startups in the Valley who made a strategic decision to divert valuable resources over the past month to develop a Facebook app did so with the understanding that we would have access to the same viral tools that all the initial applications had access to.

Anyone that launched their business based on Facebook applications knows completely what they are getting in to. This is the concept of measured risk. The majority of venture capital funded companies go out of business and that is a fact of life. This developer in particular is not exactly the most business savvy. I’ve alway enjoyed the phrase, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” In this case the players are entrepreneurs and developers and Facebook has control over the game. That’s the risk they take.

Bottom line, Faceboook will continue modifying their platform. As they make changes, some people will get squeezed out which is natural. The only people that will be left standing in the end are those that truly develop valuable and robust applications. Without a value-added proposition, Facebook applications are completely worthless. It sounds to me like the developer in this specific case is unhappy because his application wasn’t successful. Tough luck!