Every day I get a bunch of application invitations on Facebook to join some new crazy little thing. There is a septillion of apps on facebook, and the funny thing is that half of them are the same exact thing, just implemented in slightly different way. For example, there are around 20 different “poke” applications, multitude of “wall” replacements. There are also few dozen “Courses App” replacements, but they all mostly suck.
The abundance of silly fun apps like super-pokes, super-walls and etc is not that bad. You just use what your friends use and have fun with it. You could say that users are actually benefiting from the abundance of them giving us a better Facebook experience. Then again, it’s kinda annoying. For one it clutters facebook profiles and makes them look more and more like MySpace pages every day. I liked the clean, and lean design even if it was a tad spartan. But that’s just me – I like simplicity.
Then again, I’m a blogger. I express myself by writing these long ass posts that put most of normal people to sleep around the end of the first paragraph. (I’m not saying you guys are not normal – it’s just that people who comment here seem to be smarter than the average facebook or myspace profile owner.) Other people express themselves by adding more blinkenlights to their profile.
Btw, my favorite question is: “hey, did you hear my new myspace song?”. No of course I didn’t. Apparently you didn’t pay attention when I told you that I have myspace music disabled. Seriously, browsing MySpace without these mandatory greasemonkey plugins is like going back in into the 90’s and browsing the geocities pages with the ubiquitous embedded MIDI’s.
And then there is the redundancy. Am I the only person who sees no difference between the snowball fight, pillow fight, pie fight, dodge ball, tag game, ping pong and the “poke” type application? They are essentially all the same – you send a notification to the other user, and they send one back to you. All of this could be handled by a single central “poke” application. In fact, the Super Poke already supports custom “pokes” where you can actually specify your own action by typing it into a text box. But, since not everyone is using that app, every once in a while someone gets a bright idea.
Hey, how about we make a Facebook app where people could like flick poop at each other. I know, I know all those custom poke apps already let you do things like that, but this one will be better cause we will have cool monkey icons, and we will keep statistics on how many grams of poop you flung, and had flung back at you. That’d be cool, right?
The services which help you to connect with people such as that Courses application suffer even more from this type decentralization. The decision to remove the core Courses app diluted the value of this service. What is the point of having course tracking if your classmates are spread thin over 20 different implementations. I guess the hope was that one of these apps would become dominant one but that did not happen. They are all equally useless. Is there any point in using 6 different courses apps to keep track of people in your classes 5 users at a time?
I’m all for freedom, and I love having choices. I think the whole paradox of choice thing is bullshit. The only people who are confused by having too many choices are those who don’t care enough to do their research. But with social apps you also need to worry about stuff like user base. To many choices dilute the user base. If you are producing a text editor, an OS or a database you may be content to cater exclusively to a very small niche market. The value of your product is not associated with the size of your user base.
On the other hand if you are creating an application that is supposed to help people to interact with eachother on a social network, then the value of your app can be directly measured by the size of your user base. Who needs a networking app that only has 20 users?
What is the solution here? Let’s borrow methodology from the open source community – or more specifically from Linux distributors. How do they deal with the multitude of redundant applications out there? They cherry pick the apps they like and bundle them with the OS. Users are free to install their own and change the defaults, and add more but they get a set of solid popular applications they could start with. Facebook should do the same.
They should embrace the most successful apps and make them part of a “featured applications” package. All the featured apps would be automatically enabled on the new profiles. Existing users would get a notification when an app is added or dropped from the featured list. They should also deprecate their original services and replace them with featured apps. So when Facebook dropped “Courses” they should have picked a popular course app and say “hey, we are deprecating our old courses feature, but you should try this one instead”. Same goes for the Wall and Poke applications – pick the best one, and replace the old system with it.
How would you choose the featured apps? I don’t know – perhaps facebook team could just pick apps which they thing fit the most with their site based on the feature set, user base, support and communication with the authors. Perhaps they could ask the community to vote on apps in different categories. Perhaps set a user base threshold – if you reach a million of users, you automatically get featured. If two apps of the same time both have a million of users then we either pick one, or make the community choose.
How many apps should be on the featured list? I would say no more than 10. You want to have representative apps from each of the popular categories such as the pokes, the walls, course tracking and etc.. The point is to cover the most ground in the least amount of applications. Add too many, and you run into duplicates and dilute value again.
Implementing a featured list give us both the choice, as well as a baseline of useful apps with large user base which provide lots of value to end users. I really think this is the best way to go at this point.
[tags]facebook, social appls, facebook apps, courses, poke, wall, featured apps[/tags]