Through Sharing and Spin-Offs, Phrases Becomes Largest Facebook App by MAU — for Now

Pre-fabricated wall post generation app Phrases has overtaken FarmVille and all other Facebook apps in monthly active user count. However, the app’s developer Takeoff Monkey disabled Phrases for US users within the last month, meaning some of the current users being counted are no longer actually active. When the app’s MAU responds in the next few weeks, it could easily drop back to #2 where it was the last six weeks. The ascension of Phrases to its current 54 million users shows that simple utility apps are still attractive, despite Facebook wanting developers to make more complex apps and games.

Phrase relies on two mechanics for its growth. First, the act of using the app to post to your wall and feed also leaves a link to the app for your friends to follow. Instead of relying on entertaining and engaging the individual user until they purposefully share the app with friends, sharing with friends is its only function.

Second, the app allows users to create their own quiz for others to answer with posts, and then share these quiz with friends. These child apps funnel MAU back to the parent-app Phrases. Similar to the Lolapps Quiz Creator and Gift Creator, when a new trend or piece of popular culture emerges, users create quizzes and phrases around it, boosting growth.

Facebook has expressed dissatisfaction with these types of rudimentary apps which primarily share instead of engage, but the nature of the open Platform is that developers will test its boundaries in pursuit of success. Apps can launch immediately and don’t need to be approved as on Apple’s platform — that openness entices developers. However, this makes enforcement more difficult for Facebook’s U.S.-based policy team, especially when apps predominantly operate in languages other than English.

Facebook needs to balance the quality of the user experience with fairness to developers. Apps like social games which increase time-on-site and tie users to Facebook are obviously more in the site’s interest than spammy apps which only take a few seconds to use. However, taking action against apps which haven’t violated Facebook’s policies or changing the platform to reduce their reach could push developers elsewhere–a less desireable possibility with Google’s social product on the horizon.