The Facebook app is dead, long live Facebook apps
At FBFund Demo Day, the most promising services are not on Facebook per se. The new way to leverage Facebook is to use the network, but within destination sites
I'm at the Facebook Fund Demo Day event in Palo Alto, listening to COO Cheryl Sandberg blithely dismiss the entire Facebook Platform that the company launched in 2007. Since 2008 the big thing has been Facebook Connect, the utility that allows developers to build sites that can be logged in to using Facebook IDs. More importantly, Facebook Connect allows developers to access Facebook users' social networks in their own Web sites.
In other words, the Facebook app is nearly dead, and good riddance to it. Users don't like adding entire apps to their profile anymore just because some random friend sends them a link. Instead, the new way to leverage Facebook is to use the Facebook network, but within destination sites.
For example, the pick of the Demo Day is Thread, a dating site that uses Facebook Connect. You log in with your Facebook ID, and then you can troll -- sorry, search -- the available friends of your friends. If you like what you see in the lineup, you can ask the friend who connects you both for an introduction. It's like LinkedIn for dates. The site is free now, but may charge at some point for extended search capabilities or some such. Traditional dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony show that there is a lot of revenue potential in this model.
Threads just announced that it's raised $1.2 million in a round led by First Round Capital.
As I said, Thread is not a Facebook app. It's a destination site that uses Facebook's "social graph in the cloud" (as FBFund adviser Joe Beninato calls it) to short-cut the hardest part of building a social connection site.
Other standalone apps here include RunMyErrand, which connects people who need stuff picked up with those willing to do so. Again, it uses Facebook Connect to point users to people in their social network to run errands, to improve the trust factor. It's like have a bicycle messenger network where you actually know the messengers. Frankly I don't see it as a business with legs (sorry...but I mean it) but it is a great example of how, with Facebook Connect, you can build a social product that would be utterly impossible otherwise.
ZimRide is similar: It lets users find carpool buddies. Workstir uses Facebook connections to refer people to professional service providers. Again, it'd be nearly impossible to get any scale quickly with services like these without a pre-built social network.
Other interesting services that use Facebook Connect from the Demo Day include RentMineOnline, a service that rental property managers can use to get referrals to open units from tenants (tenants on Facebook recommend units in their building to their friends), and GroupCard, a site that lets networks of friends create booklet greeting cards from entire groups to particular friends.
One of the few companies I saw here that's actually building a Facebook app: Friend Radio. It scours your friends' music preferences from their profiles, and then uses that data to stuff your playlist with tunes. You can include or exclude specific friends, and the list of friends is ranked by music taste similarity (assuming you've entered your own music preferences in your profile; only about 35 percent of users do). When you hear something you like, you flag it to refine your future results.
The Friend Radio player lives inside your Facebook session, and stays with you as you move from page to page inside the site. I'm not exactly sure why this service needs to live in Facebook, since the Facebook Connect data would make a standalone site (like Pandora or Last.fm) possible. But conceptually, it works: You stay in Facebook, listening to music your Facebook friends like.
It's good to see Facebook, and Facebook app developers, take what works about the open Facebook platform -- the network of friends -- and run with it. And it's to Facebook's credit that the company let developers out of the walled garden of Facebook itself. While I do feel that many of the social apps that use Facebook Connect are not much more than shavings off the main social tree, some of the ideas here will flourish, and it's thanks to Facebook's open social network that they're able to get off the ground at all.