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Faux Facebook fatigue March 3, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in apps, communications, facebook, social networks.

Michael Parekh points to the Youtube video below and calls it further evidence of Facebook fatigue.

I disagree. I’m not a diehard Facebook fanboy, but I’ve done enough consumer internet product management to know that you can’t ask users what they think, you have to watch what they do.

There is certainly a growing chorus from the digerati about how Facebook apps are for toddlers, and this is echoed in the video embedded above. Interestingly though, Compete’s stats suggest that app usage is holding steady.

FB apps penetration

The feed, one of Facebook’s core innovations, had similar problems when it first launched. Early on, Facebook users condemned the feed. Today they can’t live without it.

Many of the lightweight Facebook apps live fleeting lives; they grow quickly and fade away just as quickly. That much is true. But their viral growth speaks to them meeting a core need for users of social networks, lightweight communications across increasingly expanded friendship networks:

These lightweight communications are native to social networks. Whether they be exchanging pokes on Facebook or pasting a glittering “thanks for the add” .jpg into a Myspace comment, “content free” communications abound. The meta message is clear though “I’m thinking of you”, and that is often enough of a ping to keep the connection open. Many of the Facebook and Bebo apps fulfill exactly this lightweight communication function, including Hug Me, Zombies and Scrabulous.

The digerati, with their Outlook address books and social network friends lists in the 1000s, bloated by people they met at conferences several years ago, are edge use cases. Their experience is atypical. Normal users of social networks use Facebook apps in the same way that middle America forwards emails to one another. A healthy percentage of the emails that I get from my mother in laws are these forwarded emails (whether remarkable pictures, funny videos, or uplifting stories) and they’ve all been forwarded many times before they get to her. Facebook apps are just another instance of this lightweight communication behavior that we’ve seen online for many years.

More recently we’ve seen more of the app developers turn their attention to increasing engagement and building richer experiences for app users beyond the lightweight communication. But even the lightweight apps are fulfilling a need for users.