Wednesday, March 5, 2008

WAI Facebook?

F8 is coming under heavy fire.

Umair Haque says: "F8 fragments the larger network into app-specific networks, kills networks effects, and destroys value."
He links to David Gal on VentureBeat who wonders if F8 is "..a strategic mistake?"

I think we should start off by taking F8 for what it is...a Zuckerberg best-effort at stimulating interaction(via app. development) on FB, leveraging the user community, and providing a monetization angle in all this for developers.

Being as we just started discussing our own Facebook application, I thought we ought to give some careful thought to this.
And this is not just because we greatly value Umair's opinion, but because I am an avid Facebook user, and I detest 99% of the applications that show up on my notification feed from my friends.

So arguments for the FB-Doomsday situation were:

1. F8 does little to build the network.... (and I think this isn't quite right because F8 is clearly aimed to leverage, not build..)

2. Useful networked applications need to have a lot of relevant users... (and by letting multiple apps. show up in a category, no single app. can effectively leverage the network for that category; likewise, the popular apps aren't necessarily the best ones, but the first ones to arrive..)

3. Leveraging the network: Facebook needs to be the one directly leveraging the network, for quality control and maximum value.
F8 => kilo-tonnes of apps into the network == Mass-ploitation => NOT (mass value-creation)

4. "endless numbers of apps competing for network effects, but failing to realize them; because the iron curtain of f8 minimizes the value of said network effects."


Whew. Heavy stuff, as always. To a large extent, I agree.
Simply put, the big reason I like to use Facebook is because of its clean, clutter-free appearance.
And the gang-loads of applications (20,000++) almost seems like a counter-intuitive complement to the aesthetic which draws me to FB.

But you know what...just like we get the leaders we deserve, the Facebook network is responsible for shaping its own effects.

I don't think F8 is the problem. To me, it's just another platform, made available to people who're at a certain party, and as long as the people at the party don't yell at the losers standing on the platform, there will continue to be losers on stage, undermining the true potential of the platform.

So before we put this thought aside, let's keep in mind two words: social policing.


Next two words: developer responsibility.

Personally, I think this is meaningless. A ToS page, this large, means nothing. I think Gideon Yu would do well to draw on his experience at YouTube and try and replicate something like this on F8.

I think we all get the first message: "Anyone can build a Facebook app."
Now, there needs to be some new messages....about responsible application development for a community.

And these messages, of course, need to be backed up with some conformance-control by FB.
I remember it taking 24-48 hours for YouTube/Google to let my uploaded videos go live. It was (or at least I hope it was!) a best-effort at monitoring compliance w/ their content upload policy, and it kept the dirt out.


Now let's assume that Facebook is able to clean up this whole piece. Only good, socially responsible, useful and do-no-evil apps reside on the Facebook app. network.

But then, What do you do about the iron curtain?
Facebook apps., are after all, only available to Facebook users and to the Facebook network.

Well, I suppose some app developers couldn't care. Their world changes radically by reaching out to a potential audience of 60 million.

But there are some of us who DO care. So let's talk about us, and why we need to care.


A Facebook application is a complementary strategy for us.

We're not counting on the F8 platform for our bread and beer, but we are looking to Facebook for exposure, the opportunity to experiment painlessly with a social network(not a good time to lie, so you'll have to pardon the crudeness...), and yes, a distant third success scenario for us would be if folks loved our app. so much that it starting making us(and Zuckerberg...and Ballmer..and others...) a lot of money.

But let's focus on 1 & 2 (both boil down to money anyway..)

(1) Exposure: We operate on the model that no single destination is good enough for our content. It needs to be everywhere it can be, as long as we can track usage, advertisement impressions, and get half-decent analytics. So Facebook becomes a natural choice for us. It's a great way for us to show off to a (closed) group of 60 million users a compilation of content that we're really proud of.
And all in the hope that every month, we get a 0.1% penetration for our app. and brand (60,000 users) and that 20% of those (12,000 users) click through to our site and for the 5-10 average page views each one of them generate in a given month, we can count on a $2,400 check (12k x 10 x $20 CPM) from our Facebook app. every month.

(2) Experimentation: A good disclaimer here is that we're definitely not thinking of Facebook users as lab-rats. In fact, we had a conference call on this yesterday and discussed how we want to experiment, without f-ing anybodys happiness on FB. No spamming, no "send this to 50 friends to see results", and all that crap.

But we ARE going to exploit the sandbox that's been made available to us, so the things we are going to experiment with are:

a. Engagement: To what level do users like to be engaged with an app. like ours? What tools do they prefer more than others? What's the best use they find for our app? How many different uses for it can we offer/they envision?
b. Context: How can we leverage the social context of each user of the app, to generate and distribute marginal value? Can our app. be used to create better context, or is exploitation of context our only option? If the former, can the enhanced context be translated into more value(recommendations...)?
If the latter, can we do-no-evil? ;)


Now the big question for us, of course, is why bother with all this over $2,400/month?

Well, for starters, 35% of that money goes to the content publishers. Enough said there.

Second, we're distributors, 2.0. We go places in sophisticated technological vehicles, capitalize on the graciousness of our hosts, give them a few mementos, hopefully leave a footprint, and keep walking the streets of Agrabah, selling combination hookahs and coffee makers which also make chilli and fries.
I already mentioned this- our job is to distribute content- not just on our website. Today, it's relatively easy to set up on-demand relationships(audiences <> avenues; avenues <> content; content <> publishers), and once you've set up a relationship, it only breaks when something radical changes(Facebook shuts down, for instance).

Finally, we believe that platforms like F8 *need* mindsets like ours. We aim to complement their offering, rather than mindlessly eat off their success. Irrespective of original intent, DNA, conspirators, and intent to take over the world, this is a platform that invites creativity, offers opportunity, leaves room for value creation and only requires that you share your success.
We consider ourselves fortunate that we don't have to deal with horrifying alternate scenarios (create an MFC application, build a DLL or EXE out of it, and make it available for downloads...for a PC only).


Does staying closed destroy implicit value? Maybe.
Does staying closed generate explicit value? Maybe.

Should we be worrying about the iron curtain? Probably not.
Because we don't believe there's really an iron curtain. FB apps work like most web 2.0 services and are easily able to share derivative information by interacting with other web services.

So why this illusion of an iron curtain?
I think it's those damned 20,000 odd Facebook apps....

And it all begs the question:
"If seven maids with seven mops, swept it for half a year, do you suppose", the Walrus said, "that they could get it clear?"