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Max Levchin envisions an Alcoholics Anonymous app on Facebook

Man behind PayPal (and SuperPoke) thinks that Facebook applications can progress beyond their procrastination-friendly roots, but it might take some creativity.

Slide founder Max Levchin talks with Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li at Web 2.0 Expo.
Caroline McCarthy/CNET News.com

SAN FRANCISCO--Max Levchin made a name for himself as the co-founder of transaction system PayPal, one of the Web's foremost utilitarian services. Then he made a name for himself again at the helm of Slide, which isn't exactly in the same space. Its flagship product, "SuperPoke," has become the poster child--er, poster sheep--for criticism of social-networking developer applications as a silly fad.

On Wednesday, after his keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, I asked Levchin if he thought there were actually a chance for some social applications to emerge that are useful rather than goofy.

"There's definitely opportunity to build utilitarian, or pure utility, apps on Facebook," he said. So I asked him to give an example.

"Alcoholics Anonymous," Levchin said, without hesitation. "If you're trying to recover as an alcoholic, there's no easy way for you to join an anonymous group on Facebook. So creating an anonymous group type on Facebook for something that people have to get off their chest but don't really want to reveal their identity (in doing so)...it's pretty utilitarian. Grim, but utilitarian." Currently, Facebook's API doesn't permit developers to anonymize the social-networking experience.

I expressed my surprise with how little time it took Levchin to up with that kind of idea. He shrugged. "Maybe it's because I grew up in Russia."