The Application Directory Dilemma (Facebook to Launch Redesigned Application Directory)

When it comes to promoting applications in the application directory, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, and other social networks face a challenging dilemma balancing user, developer, and their own interests.

  • Users want to be able to find the most relevant applications quickly and easily.
  • Platforms also want users to be able to find the most relevant applications quickly and easily.
  • Developers want as much free promotion for their applications as possible.
  • Platforms want to motivate developers in the right direction by providing free promotion to those that perform well on goal metrics.
  • Platforms also want to sell developers as much promotion as they are willing to pay for.

How have Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and Hi5 balanced these interests so far?

  • Facebook’s application directory can be sorted purely by global activity (though with multiple filters – recently popular, most active users, and highest active ratio). However, Facebook doesn’t filter by relevance to your profile, your applications, or your friends’ applications. You’re only able to browse applications by category, which are very loosely self-assigned. And there are no “sponsored listings” in the directory – developers who want to purchase promotion must do so through Facebook’s Social Ads system.
  • MySpace’s application directory is also sorted by overall popularity. Users can also sort by most recent or alphabetically, but not by relevance. In contrast to Facebook’s lack of advertising in the directory, MySpace has launched aggressive advertising opportunities for developers right from the start. Developers can pay on either a CPM or CPC basis on either the main gallery or category listings pages. Finally, an Editor’s Picks section (chosen by the MySpace Platform team) rotates in the directory as well.
  • Bebo’s application directory is sorted by user ratings. It’s hard to tell how Bebo protects against app rating spam – Facebook’s app ratings are notoriously spammy. You can also sort by recency or alphabetically. And developers wishing to purchase app promotion can do so in a variety of placements, though not in the application directory itself.
  • Hi5, meanwhile, has chosen to completely randomize its application directory until the platform is more mature.

While each approach has its tradeoffs, I think Facebook’s application directory could be improved to provide more value to users, developers, and Facebook itself.

  • First, Facebook should organize applications based on their relevance to individual users. By looking at my info, my apps, and my friends’ apps, Facebook should be able to recommend more personally relevant applications and generate more app installs from the directory.
  • Second, Facebook should develop engagement metrics more directly aligned with platform goals. For example, time spent per active user per day might be a good metric if Facebook wants to increase its session lengths in general.
  • Third, Facebook should consider adopting MySpace’s approach of reserving some real estate for Editor’s Picks. Though it would be challenging to administer without bias, reserving some room for editorial selection would give Facebook another way to motivate developers in a way more aligned with Facebook’s goals for the platform. (And CPC/CPI ads, if targeted well and able to perform over a base CTR, may not be a terrible idea.)

I’ve received word from Facebook that the company is indeed about to launch a redesigned application directory in the coming weeks that will incorporate some of these ideas. With the upcoming profile redesign likely to have a significant impact on application discoverability, Facebook will really need to provide better ways for users to find new and interesting applications.