Advice to Facebook: Time to Launch Operation Baby Come Back

Google started field testing Google+ last Tuesday. This has been very widely anticipated. Rumors have swirled for months about Google’s social strategy — what would it be, and when would it happen?

Conventional wisdom has held for some time that Google is too geeky to get social right and that it is game over. Many pundits say Facebook has already won. Facebook has hired a bunch of former Google stars and has been considered the hottest place to work in Silicon Valley for some time. It’s hard to imagine that changing as the company marches towards a billion users and a very high profile IPO.

But Google+ is an amazing product. It is lightning fast, beautifully designed, and feature rich. I have spent dozens of hours on it during the past week and am convinced it will be a massive success. In my view it combines some of the best use cases of Twitter, Facebook and Skype all in one sweet user experience.

I’ve watched in near real-time as dozens of people have joined Google+ and made their first post, sometimes just typing “test” or “hello world.” Soon they start asking questions about how this thing is supposed to work, and they get immediate responses from other users. They start seeing the similarities and differences between Google+, Twitter and Facebook. After some experimenting, they typically end up having a very positive response to Google+.

Access to Google+ is still very limited. But a lot of people have joined already and a lot more are clamoring to join.

Google Plus: 1.7 million users so far?

Over the weekend I conducted an extensive analysis comparing surname and population data from the US Census Bureau to the Google Plus user base profiles. My conclusion was that as of July 4th there were 511,000 users in the U.S. and 1.2 million outside of the U.S. for a total of 1.7 million users.

The U.S. estimate is extremely accurate because of the census data, but since I don’t have surname popularity data for other countries the non-U.S. estimate could be significantly off. Still, even if it is off, there is no question that Google+ is seeing an extremely rapid adoption rate.

Like most new social products, the early adopters have arrived in force: Robert Scoble has 17,000 followers. Other influencers like Matt Cutts, Kevin Rose, Jeff Jarvis, Michael Arrington, Pete Cashmore, Louis Gray, Danny Sullivan, and Tim O’Reilly have thousands of followers already and show up on the Top 100 users list compiled by socialstatistics.com.

Technology execs like Michael Dell are creating buzz in the Google+ community by participating in video Hangouts. Mark Cuban has posted some photos of his NBA trophy. (Go Mavs!) Newt Gingrich became the first presidential candidate to sign up. And Ashton Kutcher has 2,800 followers so far, with a few more celebrities putting a toe in the water.

Each new high profile arrival gives another existing fan base a compelling reason to try out Google+.

How Fast Will Google+ Grow Virally?

As a company, Google has more online users than any company in the world, with more than one billion people served in May. Mark Zuckerberg announced today that Facebook has 750 million active users. So this will be a historic battle between the two biggest online players in the U.S. This won’t be Microsoft crushing Netscape, or Facebook eliminating MySpace. This will be a real fight. Both contenders are heavyweights. And it will probably go fifteen rounds.

I’ve been involved in social products since 1998 when MyFamily.com launched and attracted 1 million users in 140 days, making us the fastest growing community site up to that time. We passed Talk City to break the record. (MyFamily.com played a fascinating role in the early success of Ancestry.com.) Four years ago, a new company that I founded launched the We’re Related app on Facebook which got 1 million users in 29 days and went on to reach 80 million total users – all from family members inviting family members. I think I understand family virality. But that is just the tip of the iceberg for Google+.

Family

According to a fresh survey, 87% of Google+ users say they will invite relatives to join Google+ when they are allowed to. And on average they say they will invite about 12 relatives. By itself, this would help Google+ grow from 1.7 million users (my estimate on Monday) to several times bigger.

Friends

99% of Google+ users say they will invite friends to join the site – and on average, 179 of them! That kind of virality will be impressive.

Co-Workers

And 83% say they will use Google+ at work, and on average they will invite nearly 100 people from their company to the site. Yammer, Chatter by Salesforce, and other business applications have conditioned millions of businesses to simple asynchronous internal messaging. Some people think Google+ is a huge threat to these services.

Google’s Other Channels

But Google will not be limited to viral growth in the typical social fashion. Remember, Google already has a billion users of its other properties. It is the largest search engine in the world. Gmail is a major email service. Blogger (soon to be rebranded Google Blogs) is the leading blogging platform. Picassa (soon to be renamed Google Photos) is an incredible photo organizing and sharing tool. There are so many other properties like Google News and Google Reader that could also be part of the equation.

Google will likely get hundreds of millions of users on Google+ by finding ways to invite them to sign up while they are searching the web or using email. Or maybe while they are using the Chrome browser, which now has 20% market share, or Google Android, which is the leading smartphone platform in the world. I read yesterday that 500,000 Android phones are activated every day.

Being a part of Google’s marketing team would be a marketer’s dream. This is going to be the most successful product launch in the history of the world.

Facebook’s Response

Facebook’s first public response to Google+ came last Thursday when Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would make an awesome product announcement today in Palo Alto. During the press conference today he announced support for group chatting as well as a significant integration with Skype, enabling 750 million Facebook users to have person to person video chats without leaving Facebook.

Many observers felt the timing was unfortunate for Facebook and that while these features will be great for Facebook users they were available in places like gmail and MySpace much earlier. For the first time it appears Facebook is playing catch-up.

If people love Google+ so much, will Facebook have to enable lists as filters, beef up groups and maybe even adopt the circle approach? Will they get in a race with Google to match feature for feature? Will Facebook start paying careful attention to what customers want, and iterate based on customer feedback as the Google+ team is doing so well. Tom Anderson, founder of MySpace, posted some nice compliments on Google+ about how involved the Google+ team is with its customers. They’ve already made a number of significant improvements to Google+ in the first week of field testing.

The possibilities of a feature war are exciting. Some of us geeks are having a hard time sleeping as we watch this play out.

The big question is will Facebook be able to maintain its lead through the IPO? What will happen to its possible $100 billion market cap? Google has been adding $1-3 billion per day to its market cap since the field test began. Is that coming out of Facebook’s valuation? Or will both continue to grow in users and value?

What Can Facebook Do?

As I look back over the past few years and the rise and fall of social sites like Friendster, MySpace, hi5, and Bebo, and as I consider why Facebook gained so many more users than all other sites combined, I think back to one of the biggest days of my life: when I met Mark Zuckerberg in person on May 25, 2007.

Background on Facebook Platform

Four years ago I attended the f8 event in San Francisco where Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Platform. It was an impressive moment in web history. Here’s what I wrote later that night:

I sat on the third row and drank deeply of the kool-aid as Mark Zuckerberg, who turned 23 years old just 11 days ago, presented what may be the best business opportunity for internet entrepreneurs in the past ten years.

A huge new opportunity was presented to the few hundred people in the room, including 65 companies that have spent the last few weeks developing applications for the launch of Facebook Platform.

Facebook is inviting anyone to develop applications for their users on top of what Mark calls their “social graph”–the core of their service which basically keeps track of real people and their real connections to each other.

I went on to predict in my most popular blog post ever that “Facebook will become the #1 social network worldwide and the first to get 1 billion users…”

(Read the full post here: http://www.paulallen.net/prediction-facebook-will-be-the-largest-social-network-in-the-world/)

Facebook already had a lot of momentum and user growth back in May 2007. They had 24 million active users at the time and were growing fast. I had been teaching internet marketing courses at Brigham Young University and knew from first-hand experience as well as from marketing studies that Facebook was the #1 most important web site for college-aged students.

But the primary reason that I believed that night that Facebook could reach a billion users was their new Platform. I knew that Platform would attract thousands of talented developers. It would unleash their creativity and soon, all kinds of valuable, useful and fun widgets would be a click away for Facebook users. But Facebook would benefit too: each application had the potential to increase Facebook’s virality. Cool apps could be instantly shared with other Facebook users. But each new app could also enable users to reach out to friends and family and co-workers who were not on Facebook yet, and invite them to join.

That evening, Zuckerberg said his small team couldn’t possibly create everything that online audiences would want, and they didn’t want to. They wanted their Developer community to do it for them. They just wanted to own and manage the social graph. He even said he would even allow developers to build photo and video applications to compete with Facebook’s own simple applications. He talked about a level playing field. Because that’s what Platform companies do.

Getting App Developers on Board

Just minutes after Zuckerberg finished making his announcement, I was on the phone with my lead engineer and product manager excitedly explaining how our company strategy would immediately shift from building a dedicated social web site for families (a la MyFamily.com) to building apps for families on Facebook. We bet our company on Facebook Platform.

During the next 2 ½ years we became a leading Facebook app developer. We built an application that helped you find all your relatives on Facebook, build a family tree, and share content privately just with your relatives. We attracted 80 million users and were growing by 1 million per week at our peak. Our internal surveys showed that forty percent of our users gave full or partial credit to our app for their decision to join Facebook. Facebook was helping us, and we were helping Facebook.

Our app was family history related so it attracted older users. As our growth skyrocketed, reports appeared showing that Facebook’s fastest growing demographic was women over 55. Our app helped with the mainstreaming of Facebook. And so did many other apps.

Companies like RockYou, Slide, iLike and Living Social focused enormous energy on building apps for Facebook. They were rewarded with tens of millions of users and huge valuations and funding rounds.

Facebook Platform was working its magic.

The Spirit of Wikinomics

In that famous May 2007 post I shared a couple of quotes from chapter 7 of Wikinomics that applied perfectly to Facebook’s Platform and to other platforms as well. (I highly recommend this book.)

“The winners in this evolution will be companies that can create the *most comprehensive incentive frameworks* to adequately reward all stakeholders.” (p. 207)

“Winning in a world of cocreation and combinatorial innovation is all about building a *loyal base of innovators* that make your ecosystem stronger.” (p. 210)

Initially Facebook had the best incentive framework I had ever seen. They gave developers the gift of free virality and they initially promised we could keep 100% of the revenue generated by our apps.

We not only bet our company on Facebook but we also became serious evangelists for the Platform. We held developer garages for top entrepreneurs and developers in Utah to try to recruit more developers to the Platform. In a healthy ecosystem, everyone benefits from the network effect. A rising tide floats all boats. Dozens of Utah’s best and brightest attended our events where we taught them about building apps in Facebook markup language, FBML, and hosting apps in the Amazon cloud for ultimate scalability. Our success was contagious.

At Stanford, my friend BJ Fogg taught a course in the fall of 2007 with Dave McClure about how to build engaging and viral Facebook apps. Students built apps that attracted more than 10 million installs during the semester. Funds started springing up that were going to back the companies who were building on this platform. It was an incredible period of growth for Facebook and its ecosystem.

The main point I made that night was this:

[Facebook’s] growth will be dramatically accelerated by the Platform announcement. If Facebook is adding 100,000 new users per day with its own few simple applications (like its photo sharing, a very simple service that has given Facebook twice as many photos as all other photo sharing sites combined), what will happen when thousands or tens of thousands of developers start building apps in Facebook and marketing them to more users?

Facebook will reach 50 million, then 100 million, then 200 million users, and beyond.

Rather than continue to try to develop features within its own proprietary, closed network, basically keeping all of its users to itself (and kicking out widgets they don’t like, like MySpace does), Facebook intuitively gets the concepts that are so brilliantly discussed in Wikinomics (which are so non-intuitive to old school business types), and has chosen to open up its network for all to participate in. Because they embrace the winning philosophy, they will win.

Application developers can now have access to core Facebook features, such as user profiles and user connections, and even publishing to the News Feed, all with the control and permission of Facebook users. So if a Facebook user chooses your app, it will show up on their profile for all their friends to see, and they can enable that app with a single click, and so your application can spread virally to the 24 million other users.

Platform Helped Facebook Surge Past MySpace

At the time, perhaps the best analysis about how critical this developer platform (or “widget network”) would be to Facebook’s success came from the famed entrepreneur and brilliant investor Josh Kopelman. He wrote,

…Myspace’s lack of a clear “widget roadmap” created a big opportunity for their #1 competitor, Facebook.

Just last week, Facebook took advantage of that opportunity in  a huge way.  Specifically,Facebook announced their new development platform, F8.  I won’t spend a lot of time describing their announcement (I’ll leave that to others), but I agree with Paul Allen’s summary of the three key points:

  • Applications can be deeply integrated with Facebook
  • Distribution of the applications will occur through the network, and
  • The business opportunity Facebook is providing will give 100% of advertising revenue (for third party applications) and 100% of transaction revenue to the application developers.

By providing a clear roadmap – and business opportunity – for the widget makers, Facebook has just increased its virtual R&D budget by over $250 million dollars.  By welcoming third-party innovation, Facebook will reap the benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars of venture investment – and the Facebook user will have a much richer experience.  I’d wager that every widget maker who has previously relied on Myspace for traffic is hard at work this holiday weekend on migrating their application to support the Facebook API.

Think about it.  If you ran a venture-backed company and had to decide whether you wanted to focus your effort on:  (a) a property that welcomed you in and let you keep 100% of the revenue you generate or (b) a company with a vague policy that doesn’t let you generate any revenue, which would you choose?  I don’t think it’s even a decision.  It’s an IQ test.

Facebook has recognized (and embraced) something that Myspace has not – that there is more value in owning a web platform then a web property….

Major Growth

Today, Facebook is about 30 times larger than it was 4 years ago. It has been translated in 70 languages, mostly by its users. According to Quantcast, 76% of the visitors to Facebook are “addicts.” Zynga, the leading game company on Facebook Platform is going public and may be worth $20 billion. Facebook itself is preparing for an IPO early next year and may achieve a $100 billion market cap.

But besides games, what serious applications are being built for Facebook today? Why did Facebook go from promoting its Platform to hundreds of thousands of developers, to shifting its emphasis to Facebook Connect? Why did it stop letting its users add content and links from apps to their personal profile pages, so that their friends could discover what apps they were using and promoting? Why did it stop (for a while) helping apps communicate with their users?

Facebook seemed determined to make all of its app developers, especially games, pay for Facebook ads to get users.

Where have all the app developers gone?

Abandoning the Winning Philosophy

Something changed at Facebook in 2009. The spirit of Wikinomics was lost. I don’t know all the reasons why, but the Facebook Platform opportunity that promised free virality and 100% of the revenue from canvas page views turned into a nightmare for many app developers as viral touch points and communication channels were deprecated from mid 2009 to late 2010.

There were rumors that Zynga might be making more money in 2009 than Facebook, and that must have rubbed everyone at Facebook the wrong way. Facebook was spending a huge amount of money to support applications and probably wasn’t getting a fair piece of their success – not like Apple, which took 30% of all the revenue from its app sales. Something had to change.

I had warned in 2007 that a gaming company might actually make more money building on Facebook than Facebook itself would make:

It is even possible that some future Facebook app developers could end up with a greater market cap than Facebook–if they permanently maintain the 100% of revenue going to the partner model. For example, a MMORP game built into Facebook might someday have 10 million users paying $10 per month, or $1 billion in revenue, when Facebook might at that point have $500 million in advertising revenue. (Reportedly it will make $150 million this year.)

Okay, not likely, but maybe possible.

The cool thing is that the marketing costs for these application developers will be basically nothing. All viral. All courtesy of Facebook’s users.

If Facebook’s strategy team understood how to create the winning platform, then rather than eliminating the benefits to becoming a Facebook app developer, they would have tried to make it possible for dozens of companies in non-gaming verticals to also become massive successes on the Facebook Platform. Not just Zynga, Playfish and Playdom. It wouldn’t be stuck as just a social gaming platform. After all, with more users in more verticals, Facebook would ultimately benefit the most.

The core asset Facebook wants to own, extend, and leverage, is the social graph–who is connected to whom.

Facebook Platform Roadmap

In late 2009 Facebook announced their Platform Roadmap at another developer event. Publicly, they tried to spin the changes as being positive to users and developers alike. Leading developers knew this Roadmap would be absolutely devastating. Privately everyone was scared and upset. Publicly, no one wanted to say anything to Facebook or about Facebook that might cause them to be singled out and punished for their lack of loyalty.

The Roadmap was a series of design and API and policy changes that largely took away the opportunity for app developers. Over the next year and a half, these changes decimated the developer community and many startups that had sprung up around Facebook Platform.

There were legitimate reasons for some of the changes, including reducing the spamminess of many apps and reducing the huge costs that Facebook was incurring for hosting content and delivering billions of page views and user notifications at no charge for the apps. Some apps were harming the Facebook user experience. But there were definitely other solutions that could have been pursued.

Overall I believe the main impetus for the Platform changes was this: Facebook had reached a tipping point. It had achieved critical mass and no longer needed apps to “accelerate its growth.” By eliminating the gift of free virality to its app developers, by taking away notifications and eliminating the presence of apps on personal profile pages, developers (especially Zynga and the other game companies who were generating huge revenue) would have to buy Facebook ads to achieve growth. Facebook also knew they could easily build some of the most popular features of leading apps into its own user experience, which they did.

The Ecosystem Weakens

As the Facebook Platform opportunity disappeared, so did the VC funds and the angel investors who had been so energized to fund the next big thing on Facebook.

Hundreds of early entrepreneurs and developers had been building apps and evangelizing the Platform. But all that energy dissipated and a lot of dreams were shattered. I personally lost about 40 employees as a result of the Platform changes. Multiply that by hundreds or thousands of other companies and you’ll begin to understand the pain that was felt as the Roadmap was implemented.

My company (and admittedly, ours is an extreme example) went from 21 million active users of our We’re Related app at our peak in late 2009 to under 500,000 at the bottom in late 2010 — that’s a 98% drop in users. Many other apps experienced similar fates – apps that would have improved in quality and value over time.

Our own product roadmap was really cool. Our customers had answered hundreds of survey questions about what features and services they wanted us to build next for their family and extended family. We had more than 200 million responses.  We hired a dozen talented engineers, many from Move Networks, and we were excited to move forward. But then the opportunity disappeared. For the next 18 months, we just tried to stay alive.

Mark Zuckerberg came to Provo earlier this year. He was interviewed by Senator Orrin Hatch in front of a crowd of 20,000 or so college students. He got a standing ovation as he entered Jimmer’s house – the BYU Marriott Center. It was actually a very cool, very surreal experience to have the world’s second youngest billionaire (Facebook co-founder Dustin Moscovitz is 8 days younger than Mark) gracing the campus.

Mark spoke passionately about how every industry would be reinvented in the coming years. Everything would become social. Then he mentioned my company as an example of how developers are going to build all the great apps for every vertical market. He mentioned that we had a million users. I can’t explain the pain I felt when I heard that. It was a dagger directly to the heart. Once again I was sitting on the third row listening to Mark. This time, I didn’t make any phone calls after the interview. I sat quietly, trying to make the pain go away, trying to cool down.

Operation Developer Love

Last year Facebook launched Operation Developer Love, an attempt to be responsive to the needs of developers and to keep them posted on the implementation of the Facebook product roadmap. There have been a couple of platform changes that have helped the developers this year. But if Facebook wants to regain the trust and love of the developer community, it needs to do so much more.

Can Facebook Be A Legitimate Platform Again?

Because Facebook focused on getting a piece of the games economy on its Platform, they may have hurt their chances to be a Platform for substantive applications in business, education, health, finance,  government/law, travel, real estate, and so forth.

Third party developers who want to build serious and useful apps no longer get any real viral boost from Facebook. To get users, you need a large advertising budget. One speaker at a Facebook conference last week in San Francisco told game developers to plan on buying Facebook ads to get 90% of the users to their game. Once you have a hit on your hands, it makes it easier, as Zynga has shown, to get the next hit. But even Zynga is spending tens of millions on Facebook ads.

The “business opportunity” Kopelman referenced is largely gone. Web sites may use Facebook Connect to slightly improve their conversion rates and to generate some re-engagement loops with Facebook, but Connect hardly helps third party applications grow virally. Facebook has seriously restricted its viral effect for new apps, which was the #1 reason why great entrepreneurs and developers wanted to build there in the first place.

There is no question that Facebook’s team is brilliant. 750 million users is a phenomenal achievement. Facebook pioneered the stream, which is addictive; brilliantly crowd-sourced its translation into more than 100 languages; launched Facebook Connect which is used for easy login by millions of webs sites; and has become the world’s leading social gaming platform. And now they have Skype integration too.

But unless something is done to improve the native virality of the Platform, and to enable monetization of apps, Facebook will never be the best Platform choice for non-game app developers.

Google+ API

When Google+ launches its developer platform, Facebook will have two fights on its hands. A feature battle to keep users happy. And a new battle to attract developers and to make sure their ecosystem is strong. Recalling what Kopelman said, they still need a “widget roadmap” so that they don’t become the next MySpace.

Two days after Google+ launched its field test, CNET’s Rafe Needleman spoke with Google’s Vic Gudontra (Senior Vice President of Social) about Google’s plans for an API. Vic spent 15 years at Microsoft and was General Manager of Platform Evangelism there. Vic said,

“I’m a developer guy at the core. It is inconceivable I would build something without a platform.”

Which Platform Will Empower the Most Developers?

Facebook knows that every industry will be reinvented in the next few years. Everything is going to become social. Developers can leverage Facebook’s social graph to invent all kinds of new things. But will they? Will they ever trust Facebook again.

For developers, the romance is gone. Developers are energized about platforms like iPhone, iPad and Android. But not Facebook. For more than a year I’ve not spoken to a single entrepreneur who has made Facebook a significant part of their launch strategy, because of what Facebook did to its first generation of app developers.

New Facebook games launch every week, and there seems to be a new Turkish video sharing app on the top 20 fastest growing apps list too, plus a few other odds and ends.

But Facebook must create a strategy to empower developers in every industry vertical – not just gaming – to go viral and create value for Facebook’s 750 million users.

Remember, Google owns Android and already works with tons of developers. Add Google+ to that, and Google can provide a huge social and mobile opportunity for developers.

How can Facebook ultimately win, given those Google advantages?

Remember the Wikinomics advice:

“The winners in this evolution will be companies that can create the *most comprehensive incentive frameworks* to adequately reward all stakeholders.” (p. 207)

“Winning in a world of cocreation and combinatorial innovation is all about building a *loyal base of innovators* that make your ecosystem stronger.” (p. 210)

I’d like to see Facebook return to its roots, to its original promises to the developer community and to rekindle the excitement we all had about working with Facebook to change the world. I’ll even volunteer to help Facebook reach back out to its developer community, from the hundreds of people who attended the original f8, to the hundreds of thousands of developers who began to dream about building the next big thing on Facebook.

Facebook could announce a handful of changes that could re-energize its developer community and give Facebook users new and innovative things to look forward to – besides just the next Zynga game.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Let consumers put apps back on their profile pages in a limited fashion. Customers want this – we know, because we forwarded thousands of email complaints to Facebook from our upset customers when this feature was disabled. This would be a huge shot in the arm for developers.
  • Make it easier through notifications for apps to communicate with their users. Requests 2.0 is a very weak substitute for the original notifications.
  • Enable app discovery. Where is the directory of top apps in every category. Make the directory easy to find. Use algorithms like Genius to help people discover apps they will like. Please, do something to help the developers.
  • Let developers use social ads – the most effective form of ads on Facebook – rather than restricting them to being used only by Facebook. Ad revenue could help Facebooks apps grow and disrupt software being sold on other platforms.

Google’s Army of Developers

Tonight in a very insightful blog post Startup Boy said that as Android’s more open platform is Google’s best weapon against Apple’s iOS, so too “an army of 100,000 developers is Google’s best chance against Facebook.”

Here’s more of his post:

Facebook developers face two major problems. Firstly, to attract them, Facebook concocted and gave the developers access to artificial virality channels. Then, to prevent spam, they had to take them back. But they did so capriciously and arbitrarily, with some (i.e., the offerwall providers) being punished, and some (check a certain game company’s S-1) being rewarded. Secondly, Facebook is still figuring out its own business model, so what’s allowed and what’s not changes on a regular basis – look at the graveyard of social ad companies and payments companies and the recent introduction and mandates on Facebook credits.

Google should tell developers – “here’s a simple set of rules that will never change. Here’s a simple API that we will always keep backward compatibility with. Here’s an incentive and a reward for creating an application that brings more users into G+. Here’s a simple and clear way for users to export their information and their social graph. Here’s the standard small cut that we take on everything.”

Right now, the only true open platforms for any startup are email and the web. Android is a close third. Facebook, Twitter, iOS, SMS, etc. while beautiful and elegant, forget at their peril that there was a time when AOL, Compuserve, WAP, and other walled gardens were beautiful and elegant too.

Can Facebook Get Developers Back?

For two years the Facebook Platform team’s main message was that the in-Facebook app opportunity was pretty much going away, and that Facebook Connect was the new company strategy.

But that may not be enough now. If Google+ is going to attract an army of developers, what can Facebook do now? Can Facebook acknowledge that it abandoned its f8 launch philosophy, reneged on its early promises and made a lot of decisions that hurt developers? Rather than try to justify those moves, can Facebook apologize somehow, make some simple new commitments, and then work harder than ever to serve not only users and advertisers, but developers too?

Maybe Facebook can do what Startup Boy is telling Google to do: introduce a “simple API,” create an “incentive and reward” for bringing new users in or bringing them back, and introduce a “set of rules that will never change?”

Operation Baby Come Back

It’s time for Facebook to take developers seriously. Operation Developer Love is not enough. It’s time to pull out the big guns. It’s time to launch Operation Baby Come Back.

Perhaps Facebook should get Jesse Eisenberg (he sings in the animated hit Rio) to put on his best MZ tee and record this classic song from the 70s. Or if Mark can sing, that would be better still. They could send the video clip to all Facebook developers past and present.

Baby come back, any kind of fool could see
There was something in everything about you
Baby come back, you can blame it all on me
I was wrong, and I just can’t live without you

Facebook is big enough to live without app developers for a period of time. But my main point is that whichever social network provides the best platform opportunity for developers will have a huge advantage in the long run. And I actually think it will be the deciding factor in the social network wars.

And make no mistake, the wars have begun. Tonight Google’s VP of Social posted that they were opening up invites for a bit so they could double the Google+ userbase. They are ready to handle that much load. Very soon after his message spread through the system the Google+ doors were closed again.

I suspect this means another 1.7 million people will join Google+ as they respond to the invites over the next couple of days. I’ll be updating my surname-based analysis and estimate tomorrow.

When Google+ reaches 100 million users in the next couple of months, the Facebook team will need its own army of 100,000 developers who are fully motivated by proper incentives and iron-clad promises to build cool things on top of Facebook’s API. In my view, it’s their best shot against Google.

Meanwhile, I’ll be checking my Facebook every day, watching for the video.

15 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing such a big piece of blog. I m totally agree with the point of developer are the pulse of any platform. Sure Facebook wil realize it sooner.

  2. The title made me think you meant “baby come back” to mean getting Google+ users to leave their new love and come back to Facebook. While that may be a small piece of the puzzle, you make a GREAT point that non-developers never realize: app developers are a huge value-add to any social network that can not be overlooked or mis-treated. I am always thinking about those networks from an advertising angle, and they have to make sure they are priced right and showing returns to keep advertisers around, but more importantly, they have to create an environment where millions of people want to come so that advertisers will follow that herd. Great points here Paul!

  3. Wish I’d understood the problems with your FB app and the drop in numbers. Ought to hang out at your blog more. (Ooops, used a G+ term there, didn’t I?)

    I “like” the enable app discovery FB suggestion.

    Back in 2007 I responded to your blog stating genealogy how-to writers like me ought to use the FB platform, and that has worked out well for bloggers.

    Now I predict Google will win out because of integration with their own apps. There is already a method for moving our FB photo albums over quickly.

    Genealogy bloggers are clamoring for apps like Networked Blogs on FB, only more reliable. As soon as Google opens the API floodgate, I’ll be googling for that G+ app and more.

  4. As MYRTLE says, Google definitely has the advantage of their own apps. They also have the benefit of coming after Facebook and using all of the experience and knowledge that Facebook has gained from pioneering the modern social network.

    I still don’t know, we are all stoked about G+ but I think it will take awhile to catch on to the more common user. I highly doubt my mom, who just joined Facebook would find a reason to switch. Time will tell though I guess.

    In general, the web is so exciting! All of these innovative projects coming out really inspire me and others to think outside the box. I think we’ve just begun seeing great entrepreneurial innovations and the next 10 years is going to be really exciting!

  5. This was without a doubt one of the best explanations I’ve ever read about what happened to the FB developer community. We all remember when apps dominated the FB activity stream, and I think we were all relieved when the apps went away and the people came back.

    What I’m curious is how Google will really implement a system that attracts developers, encourages viral marketing, and avoids the spamminess of the old Facebook.

    Good times are ahead of us.

  6. Very insightful post. Indeed, something more fundamental has to change at FB if they want to surge ahead with same steam as past.

  7. Richard Renshaw

    It looks like someone took Steve Balmer’s Developers!Developers!Developers! tirade to heart :)
    It’s hard to find fault in the essay, it’s logical, well thought out and presented. In the meantime it kind of feels like being early to a party – people are only now starting to wander in – they’re milling about and it’s feels a little empty. For now.
    Personally I’m looking forward to the future, having the opportunity to be able to learn from another’s mistakes is always an advantage and hopefully Google will capitalize on that.

  8. Excellent exposition on the subject – I think it will be fascinating to see whether Google can create a sustainable platform with Android and G+, or whether they fall into some of the same traps Facebook did.

  9. I am sorry if I hurt you with this comment, but for me as a user, the changes were for the better.

    When the apps had a “free reign”, as you call it, what it meant for me as a user:

    – really, really bad flash applications on other’s wall (you probably don’t remember that, but you could install applications on your wall and “customize” it – it was insane – it was later moved into “boxes” tab)
    – then, constant stream of “tests” on the main feed
    – application getting into my notifications (if you remember that, applications could – and did – get into notification center, which was on the bottom right corner)
    – once I installed an app, it spammed itself to heaven to my friends

    I actually stopped going to facebook alltogether, because the apps ruined it for me.

    Facebook, then, brought Facebook Apps to the background, evidently, and you know what? For me, as a user, it’s definitely better. The site is cleaner and there are much less apps cluttering my feed. I understand that for you it must be hurtful – but I guess the “obnoxious” applications ruined it for the rest.

  10. Lisa Harrigan

    *sigh* I was actually getting to like the My Family thing. It is much better than what they have now. Our family is “Complex” with divorces, remarriages, marriages. The Current List Your Family thing doesn’t even have the concept of In-Laws. I may love my Son-In-Law and Sister-In-Law, but they are not my Son or Sister.
    It is much harder to connect and correct errors on the My Family, when I basically have to go Off Facebook to correct things. And none of it shows up on FB anyway, so it seems kind of useless.
    The family is being Real Slow in moving over to G+. A lot of the older ones barely understand FB and fail to see why they need another FB type account. Frankly, even most of my friends are just playing with G+, though some are taking advantage of the Long Post Ability, to cross post off Live Journal which has been having posting problems lately.
    It’s a strange world and about to get even stranger.
    Look forward to what you develop for G+.

  11. Michael Walters

    Paul – you should be commended for the character you not only re-grew your company with after the big blue betrayal, but the character with which you wrote this article – no bitter vindictiveness or “neener neener, look at google”

    I honestly think if Marc humbled himself and sang, it would do wonders for their business. However… it is very hard for FB or any early-stage company to choose a fixed business model or strategy once, early, and then sit back and say “wish I could change this” as the evolution unfolds. I think they need to be clear about some things now (including revenue share rates), but also remain flexible. As it were, the typical user would tell you it’s hard to find an app you really care about on facebook (yours being a rare exception) unless it’s a game you’re really into, and as such, facebook is truly blowing it. Why, of all things, they don’t develop a proprietory merchant services platform is beyond me, rather than give this opportunity over to folks like Milyoni and Payvment.

    Question regarding FB’s most recent policies – if I simply host my own “app” on my own website/platform, and reward my own users with my own proprietary virtual goods (or even simply earn coupons or discounts to buy products I sell) to incentivize my own users to invite friends to join/subscribe/adopt the app (or buy the product), would FB let me put a little “send/like” button on my webpage to enable my users to do so? If not, my next startup should be a “connect” tool that does ;-)

    Does anyone have any clarity on this question?

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