Facebook is okay with hurting their developers

Update: Only two weeks later, all of the user decline figures are far worse than I had originally stated (e.g., Band Page is down to 4M users from 31M!)

Facebook just seriously injured their own app developer ecosystem, and they’re poised to finish it off. And they did it on purpose.

Recently, Facebook announced that they would remove the default landing tab for Facebook Pages. They did this while simultaneously introducing Timeline for Pages. Most people probably aren’t going to miss those “like gate” pages where users were asked to like the brand’s page. The move makes sense for Facebook as it forces brands to spend money on the new Facebook ad units that have embedded likes (see below). Brands are understandably upset: getting likes means spending money.

The effects were immediate to one audience. The real doom-and-gloom story is around app developers. Facebook made this announcement at the start of this month. Since then, some of Facebook’s biggest apps have taken a nose dive on traffic. How big? A good example of this is Band Page, which gave artists cool, interactive fan pages with embedded music/videos, rather than the boring old wall. Facebook announced these changes roughly at the start of March. As you can see below, Band Page lost roughly 1/4 of their users (6 MILLION!) in a period of 15 days (yes, the chart is a little weird to read).

And this will only continue as more pages transition to the new format (10 more days until it’s mandatory).

The “default landing tab” was how many, many apps got their traffic on Facebook. The default tab was the first thing new users saw when they visited a brand’s page. This was a way for the page to “message” themselves to new potential customers, and it was very popular for brands to spend money on these apps.

Unfortunately, that party is over.

Check out this comparison on how else the new change hurt an app like Band Page. Here’s a “before” of Taylor Swift’s page, which has yet to convert to the new format:

Notice how it lets you play the music straight from the page and links to their iTunes store (links like this are not allowed on Timelines, btw)? Notice how it “lives” in Taylor Swift’s page as part of a seamless experience? See how you can see a quick list of all the apps the page has?

Let’s compare…

Snoop Dogg recently updated his page to use Timeline.

Wait. Where’s the link to Band Page? Oh, I found it under that little “2” to the right of his “Snoopermarket” (that’s cute) section…

Check out the installed Band Page app look and feel:

What? Where am I? Where’s his page? That white space you see is exactly as it appears. The app is sitting alone off in its own area.

It might as well live on Snoop’s own website, and I imagine this is exactly the direction many brands will take as this becomes the norm for Facebook apps.

How much does all this hurt these apps? Check out the biggest losers in the weekly app ranking charts:

It is the same story with every major app: stagnated growth in early March followed by a continuous and very steep decline as the month continued. All that jazz about the Ticker and Open Graph hasn’t been enough to stop this decline. I fear what will happen April 1.

Page apps are getting destroyed! This explains the recent shift for Wildfire (reference) and Buddymedia (reference) to becoming Facebook Ad aggregators. These two companies built an empire by being the go-to solution for Page apps and now they’re running away. At least Facebook notified these guys.

Facebook is out to kill page apps, albiet slowly and only after suffocating the ecosystem so the loudest and most deep-pocketed players move to greener pastures (see above two examples). Developers beware. Profile apps suffered a similar slow strangulation followed by a sudden death. When profile apps were killed, we got just over 60 days notice (announced as a footnote Aug 19, 2010 and officially removed Nov 3, 2010).

IPO-Facebook needs to make money, and if there’s companies eating their lunch, don’t expect them to sit back anymore.

After all, Timeline is all about hurting Twitter. Let’s see, it:

  • Decreases the ability of “doing stuff” via apps (e.g., self-maintaining content)
  • Makes it more embarrassing for a brand to not actively post updates since their page starts off as a wasteland. Thus, it…
  • Increases the importance of providing frequent updates and engaging your fans
  • Makes it easier to see who’s interacting with a page

Page apps became a casualty because they discouraged page owners from using Facebook like Twitter. Previously, brands could hide crappy walls by having cool apps and a nice splash page with a “Coupon for a like” message. Those days are gone. And Facebook did it on purpose. It’s probably for the best, but as a developer, it still hurts to think about all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building those amazing Page Apps.

Come on, Facebook

Facebook just had their annual F8 conference, and it was a snooze-fest to me. Examples of things they could have done that would be ACTUAL game changers:

  • An HTML5-based social application platform (currently missing from their mobile strategy and making embedded FB apps less important on mobile)
  • Embedded contextual ads on existing Facebook widges, complete with rev-sharing – yep, it would be hated
  • A truly threatening Adsense competitor for off-Facebook publishers – yep, could be hated too
  • A FB credits fee of 5% (from 30%), and enable physical e-commerce – yep, threatens a working business model
  • A connect-to-pay Paypal clone – yep, would increase Facebook’s financial liabilties

Yes they might harm them. Yes they’re risky. But they’re game changers. They flip the market upside down. They make existing competitors freak out. It pushes you even further as a leader. And, thus, the absence of such a risk shows how conservative Facebook has become.

Instead, they announced a glorified scrap book and some cool automated like buttons.

I’m sorry, but the timeline is hardly revolutionary. How is this remotely on par with the introduction of apps or the Graph API at previous F8 conferences? As a company approaching IPO, this was their moment to really show the world what Facebook’s potential could be. And so they showed off a bunch of visual fluff. The press is fawning over the newly released changes like the second coming of Jesus.

Not to mention all of these new integration points don’t even work on their current web-based or native mobile applications! What am I missing here?

I am disappointed.

Did Digg Miss the Boat Again?

So Digg released a new layout the other day, and I feel like another boat was missed. They made a big splash about this and it was covered in numerous places (for example, TCMashable). The new layout is noticeably faster to load, which is a huge plus. They tout that this new version emphasizes a “My news” approach to Digg, where they personalize the Digg site based on what you dugg in the past. In practice, unless you’re a power user, your news ends up spammed with news from one or two blogs you frequent.

I feel they are addressing their threats in the wrong order. Their website wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t their weakness either. Consider:

  1. The Like button is dominating right now. Virtually every blog has it.
  2. Facebook is a HUGE news traffic driver. Way bigger than Digg.
  3. A lack of personalization was never Digg’s problem. Plenty of news sites on the web are popular with no personalization functionality.

First, Digg needs to figure out a way to make article submission “fair” for the little guy (read: long tail of users). They should have fixed the fundamentally flawed “democracy” where certain users effectively had 1000 votes. Personalization is an approach to the problem, but it ultimately doesn’t stop popular individuals from heavily influencing all of their followers’ feeds (and thus accumulate votes). The main complaint was that only power users could effectively get articles to the front page. Perhaps the algorithm should better incorporate Digg-to-viewer ratios or weight Diggs from non-followers as greater. The point is, until this is fixed, Digg will never fully engage its non-power users due to a lack of incentive. This represents the vast majority of its user base.

Second, Digg needs to up readership engagement. They should really look at their Digg button and see how it compares against the infamous Like button. It needs to be as brainless as the Like button. Clicking on “Digg This” should instantly submit the article to Digg. No windows; no dialogs. This is how the Like button works, and its pervasiveness shows how simplicity can trump everything else. Of course, doing this might mean changing how article submissions work on Digg — no problem: let power users check a setting where they ARE prompted for a custom title or description. The point is, the process needs to have as few places as possible where a user can change their mind about participating in the Digging process.

The website, I think, was never the problem.