Talking With the RockYou Co-Founder

Jia ShenRockYou, the social network widget development company, has had a significant presence on Facebook. RockYou has been extremely successful so far with their most popular application, Likeness, obtaining over 5 million users. I had the opportunity to speak with Jia Shen, the Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of Rock You.

What is your position at RockYou and what does your job consist of?

I’m the CTO / Co-founder. I make sure we’re doing all the right things as far as the product goes. I do a little bit of everything from product design, graphic design, programming, to IT / Operations. In a company this size, we kinda all do everything.

How involved have you been with the development of your Facebook applications?

I personally developed many of our apps. I still spend the majority of my day doing development.

What percentage of your company resources have been dedicated to Facebook application development?

About 70% of our development resources are on Facebook.

What do you think the most important components of an application are in order for them to be successful?

There are a variety of different types of applications, but the most successful ones are what we call “engagement” applications. These are apps that leverage social interactions between a user and their friends. They entice users to engage with one another and really spread virally very naturally.

What features have been most critical to your various applications’ success?

The most important functionality are those that properly leverage viral channels. The number one page on Facebook is the News Feed page, so anything that an application does to show up on that page is time well spent. Minifeed posts, Application invites, and notifications all bring applications to a users attention.

I’ve heard that RockYou is offering advertising services for application developers, is this true? Would it be possible to elaborate about what services you are providing exactly?

We’ve developed an advertising network that helps developers properly monitize their applications, and helps new developers grow their user base. These advertising services are unique in the way that they only appear at the end of a user experience. When an application has finished engaging with the user, they display our ad placements. They don’t really draw from the user experience like typical banner advertising. They also pay a lot better. Our publishers are seeing something like 40$ CPM on these pages. We’re seeing huge uptake on both the advertiser and publisher fronts. This has proved to be very successful for monetizing and user acquisition for our partner applications.

I’ve heard that you are currently charging application owners over $1.00 per application installation. Is this an accurate figure?

This is a system that’s constantly being tweaked, but we’ve seen numbers from .50 to above a dollar based on the day of the week and actual ad placement.

What future plans does RockYou have for Facebook applications?

With over 50% of Facebook users that have RockYou applications on their profiles, we’ll definitely keep cranking out Facebook applications. We are starting to focus more on initiatives to help the Facebook Developer community monetize.

Is there a specific number that Rock You has found to be critical mass of an application before it goes viral?

If an application is extremely viral, it should really just take off from no seeding at all. Applications like our Likeness took off without any seeding. It just flew off the shelves. There are a few key factors:

  • Fundamental viral potential: How easy do users convert to adding the application. How likely are they to convert their friends.
  • The pervasiveness of the target audience: Is the audience of the application all of Facebook, or is it targeted towards a smaller subset.

Do you know the demographics of users on your application? If so, what is the average age of your application users?

Depending on the application, the male to female ratio varies greatly, but the average age is around 21.

What has been the biggest challenge for RockYou in developing Facebook applications?

It’s definitely being able to maintain our focus. The Facebook platform is so flexible and still rapidly changing that the full product and business potential is mostly unrealized. We’ve had a hard time balancing the desire to develop many more applications with the need to refine our current ones.

Is there anything else you would like to have me mention with this interview?

We’ve got some cool ideas cooking, look out for them in the coming weeks and months for sure!