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Facebook crowns top apps. Rafe does, too

At the Facebook HQ, the FB Fund awards the best new apps for the social platform.

I was at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., Tuesday night for the FBFund event, where the company bequeathed five $250,000 awards to top Facebook apps from a group of 25 finalists (who each had already won $25,000). Most of the finalist apps were impressive. I talked to the creators of several of them and came up with a few favorites.

But first, Facebook's own winners:

GroupCard prints rather cute custom greeting cards. Rafe Needleman / CNET

GroupCard, which is a really sweet app that lets you create group greeting cards for your friends. Signers can also chip money in for gifts, and the cards can be printed. They look great.

Kontagent, an analytics service for Facebook apps. Shows very useful data, such as virality (pass-along registration) and engagement.

MouseHunt, a silly game in which you build mousetraps and compete with friends to catch mice. It works because the company sells virtual bait (cheese) for real money. It's taking in more than $100,000 a month, the founder told me. On fake cheese.

Weddingbook, a sub-network of brides and grooms inside Facebook, as well as an application to help engaged couples organize their wedding day with their friends.

Wildfire, an app that builds contests for marketing purposes.

Read more commentary from Inside Facebook.

These are all good apps, but I have an additional top five. My criteria: These are the apps that I think have the most creative or unusual thinking behind them, either on the technology or the business side.

BarTab. At first glance, it's just another You buy a drink from the site, send it to a friend, and then they go into a bar and redeem your gift for real booze. But BarTab has finagled the economics. You buy drinks for just $1. The bar you send your friend to is the one picking up the rest of the tab, and they do so as a marketing expense. The service allows bar owners to specify when their offers are valid, so they can, if they like, do some yield management via the BarTab coupons, getting new customers in on slow nights, for instance. It's an old Facebook trope but I like the economics.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gets a demo from Nisan Gabbay of Party Buzz. Rafe Needleman / CNET

Pongr. Like SnapTell, this is a mobile phone app that lets you take pictures of media products (books, DVDs) and then get prices from stores selling them. So if you're in a store and see a book you like, you can quickly see what it's going for on Amazon. The twist with Pongr is its social angle. When you snap an image of an item (or enter an item ID manually), that tidbit shows up on your Facebook feed and your friends can tell you if they know of a good place to get a deal on the item. Presumably, if they happen to have a copy of it, they could also send you a note and offload it to you, for a good price.

Teach The People, a marketplace for educational content. The service handles educational content as well as the natural social angle that's part of it, such as student message boards and reviews of educators. What I like about it is the long-term plans for the site, which include giving users credentials for passing courses, which they can use when looking for work. There's also a natural business-to-business angle for the service, which isn't surprising since the founder came from

Bottle Rocket, a social site for people who like wine. You tell it what wines you like, it does a match with the people in your social network and what they like, and it does social recommendations for you. Coming up in 2009 are the cool features: A mobile version of the app will use your location to make targeted recommendations. If you're in a Whole Foods, you'll get a list of wines sold there; in a restaurant, ditto.

Social Arcade, a game-building app within Facebook. Looks like it has a healthy collection of templates (platform games, driving games, whack-a-mole type games, and so on), into which you can put your actors. You can also design your own levels. What I like about is the fact that it looks really easy to use, and that it has a potentially solid revenue stream: If you want to make your company's mascots or themes available to game builders, you can easily do so. For a small fee.