Navigating out of Facebook's awkward adolescence

O'Reilly offers conclusions on why some Facebook applications thrive and why most fail.

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
2 min read

It's easy to get caught up in the mania but as a new O'Reilly report reminds readers, only a handful of Facebook applications ever become smash hits.

Anyone who has encountered the new oddball Facebook app du jour can attest that the novelty gets old rather fast. That's because many of the ideas are insipid time sucks. At that point, you're more likely to tune out (if you haven't already hit the delete button.) Indeed, O'Reilly notes the "tendency for individual applications to grow very quickly within the first few weeks, and then to plateau in growth after a few weeks."

Growth pattern for "falling" apps O'Reilly

The reasons why:

Only a very small percentage of Facebook applications have enough traffic to generate substantial advertising dollars (this was a key finding of O'Reilly Radar's original Facebook Application Platform report), and The social networking phenomena is still in its awkward (and baffling) adolescence, so few marketers can unravel the real opportunities from the hype and the hope.
Anybody who spends a fair chunk of time on Facebook inevitably is going to get bombarded by goofy apps forwarded by friends. O'Reilly's research backs up the anecodotal impression that "developers are not making heavy investments in the Facebook as platform. For the most part, applications are still fairly lightweight - "fluffy" - in nature."

So for the time being, O'Reilly is land zoning Facebook more as a testing ground for promotional and marketing activity than for serious applications. On the surface, that may not sound promising for the future, but it's useful to recall that we're still in the very early innings.

It has a long ways to evolve before it will be the home of applications with more gravitas, solving meatier social networking and collaboration problems. A social graph platform, comprised of profiles, connections, sharing and access controls, groups, communication, conversation, and collaboration, can provide an environment for so much more than just playful social networking. There is yet plenty of room for innovation going forward, as social networking applications become more sophisticated, with greater investment in applications for different target communities of users - users for whom it makes sense to build tools for sharing, knowledge management, and collaboration upon a social graph.
Once they figure that out, Facebook may be a more promising testbed where outside developers aim far beyond personal social networking.