Metrics that matter

Quote of the day from Fred Wilson: “If I get one more email from someone bragging about the millions of Facebook users they’ve got using their app, I am going to declare bankruptcy again. What I want to know is what apps are people actually using.”

Observation: As I’ve been “playing” with the Facebook Platform, I’ve noticed I’m rapidly going through a next-shiny-object phase. Adding and removing applications on the Facebook Platform takes nothing but a click — the absolutely lowest bar I’ve ever seen for getting someone to become a “user” of an application. Click. That’s all it takes to activate. In most cases, you need no additional email address, no downloading software and installing it, no registering on a website. Just click. This makes it easy for application developers to send out press releases like this one that claims iLike is the fastest growing technology in the history of the world and that within a month every person in the universe will be using it. (Okay, they don’t go that far, but…)

My point is this. On Facebook, they may call them “applications,” but to the user, they’re just features that one can toggle on or off. Next new shiny thing comes along, and, well, an application may discover that it is the fastest obsolete technology in history. I’m already “un-adding” applications at the rate with which I’m adding them. For instance, I have gone through a couple of third-party Flickr-integration applications that I’m trying out until Flickr offers an official one. Lots of the feature/applications that are being created are very fun — but may not reap any benefit from first-mover status. Some will gain in popularity and those who are playing around with the platform will be the folks who figure out what works and doesn’t — but I’m not so sure the number of people activating an application during week-three of the Facebook Platform era is necessarily an indication of future success.

I’m guessing Facebook applications will be more like shareware than big-co software publishing, except when it comes to major categories like an application for me to sell and buy auction items, or an application for me to exchange cash with other Facebook members. In those categories, I think the obvious 800-lb. gorillas will roll out their Facebook-integrated application shortly.

I wish everyone developing Facebook apps a lot of success. But what Fred says is important to understand: Having someone toggle on your application is not the same as having someone use your application.