Tips for Developing a Successful Facebook App by Zachary Allia, Maker of “Free Gifts”

Thousands of Facebook apps have been developed so far, but only a few have skyrocketed into the user stratosphere like Free Gifts. Currently, with over 2.8 million users, Free Gifts has ascended to become the 8th most popular application on Facebook.

I spoke with Zachary Allia, developer of Free Gifts, to get his thoughts on developing a successful Facebook application. Allia, a 2007 graduate of Northeastern University in Boston, says he has received “multiple offers, jobs, and partnership requests throughout the growth of Free Gifts,” but has not yet accepted any of them, and instead is holding out in hopes of making Free Gifts profitable.

IF: What are the characteristics of Free Gifts that have made it so successful so far in your view?

ZA: I think the most important part of Free Gifts is that it attracts everyone, even the people who are anti-applications, because Facebook Gifts was there before, and now Free Gifts offers the same exact service, except it is free.

The other characteristic that I think is very important is I am very active in the user discussions on my about page. I do this for two reasons: one, because I like to hear about bugs and fix them right away, and second, because I myself am a user of Free Gifts and have opinions on how it should work. I take a ton of requests from users everyday, and I try to implement the best ones.

IF: So how did Free Gifts get started?

ZA: Free Gifts was started for fun. I knew people would like it, but I didn’t know THIS many people would like it. I did a little user survey by asking my younger sister what she hated most about Facebook, and she said “paying for gifts.” So, it all started from there, and then it grew incredibly fast.

IF: So since you’re not planning on selling out any time soon, what are your plans?

ZA: I plan on making some money with the application, but in a way that is totally non invasive to my users. I personally hate banner ads, and I don’t really want to litter my application with them. There has been a lot of thought put into how to do this, by multiple people, without being invasive. Relevant text links and limited edition sponsored gifts are going to be my first step in making this profitable.

IF: What is your advice to other application developers hoping to emulate your success?

ZA: Application developers can’t just expect to get big instantly. This is still a very new concept and some applications got lucky and took off right away, others are going to take longer to build a large user base. If a developer has an application that is fun, viral, and works it will take off eventually, but don’t frustrated if you aren’t in the Top 20 overnight. Developers know the platform is new, but users don’t really think about that and they will remove your application if it doesn’t work for an extended period of time.

Finally, I really need to send a huge thanks to 30boxes because not only do they make an amazing calendering application, but they have been an incredible help to me in the growth process. They have offered me hosting and a ton of good advice, and I don’t think Free Gifts would be nearly as successful if it weren’t for them.