How To Dream Up Your Next Facebook App

This is a guest post by Nick Gonzalez of SocialMedia Networks, an advertising network for social media platforms like Facebook and OpenSocial.

So, you want to make a new Facebook application, but how? The Facebook platform is the ultimate microcosm of the internet. Whereas websites become popular in months or years, applications explode in a matter of hours or days. Along the same vein, users are also that much more capricious. Downtime can turn off new users and kill an application.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind when creating your next Facebook application:

  1. Decide on a category or combination of categories
  2. Hone the concept and the pitch
  3. Always keep it simple

Picking A Category

How do you come up with a good concept? For your first application, you don’t need to be that original. Simply looking at the top ten active applications shows two “Friend’s for Sale” type applications. Further down the line there’s plenty of gifting and gaming applications that manage to attract large audiences. But why this works is a topic for another post on seeding your application.

There are a few major categories of applications – and more than I’ve come up with below. These ideas are also blended in some applications.

  • gifting – send virtual items to your friends.
  • rating – compare yourself to your friends.
  • poking – send virtual nudges to your friends. Vampires and pirates are also a variation on this.
  • media – watch movies and listen to music.
  • messaging – send messages to your friends (walls, chat).
  • social connections – help people make new connections (dating apps).
  • games – board games and flash games.
  • utilities – an app whose main function is to process or store information (virtual phone books, Sketch Me’s photo filter).

The Concept

So now you’ve decided on your application’s category. Like a screen writer who’s decided to make a drama film, you now have to decide on a concept. Is it a tale about pirates vs. ninjas or a fan application for your favorite TV show? Here are some suggestions for picking a concept:

  • Be original, or nearly original  – Hatching eggs and pet dragons are somewhat original twists on gifting.
  • Be social – If inviting friends multiplies the fun of your application, you can be viral.
  • Appeal to ego – Many successful apps are ways for users to show off. An app like “Friends for Sale” even goes to the extreme letting users “own” each other.

Finally, name your creation. Keep it compelling and descriptive. One of the best suggestions I’ve heard for naming is actually testing a name’s appeal by running small parallel advertising campaigns with the different names and measuring click through on each of the ads. The one with significantly more clicks is likely the better name. The ads don’t need to link to anywhere.

Keep It Cheap, Keep It Simple

When choosing a category and concept, its important to economize. Keep the concept simple and cheap to implement on your first run. It will keep you focused and help users understand what your app does.

Also, keep in mind economics. What kinds of demographics do you think you’ll attract (eco-friendly people, car enthusiasts, women)? Focused demographics are a lot easier for an ad network to sell. What kinds of costs are associated with implementation? Services like email or chat will be more expensive to maintain per user than simpler applications that serve up straight HTML. Cheaper apps will reach their break even point much faster. Remember, you can always add more features later.

Finally, get out there and code it up!