I started developing Facebook applications back in June 2008 and I’ve had quite an adventure since then.
Facebook has allowed me to find an audience to my creativity. Although I had been developing softwares since 1999, it was the first time I could think of an idea, write the application, publish it online and virally reach thousands of people! (well, millions actually)
Basically, it is Facebook that turned me into an entrepreneur. I had been touched by the 4 hour work week of Tim Ferriss and really believed I could decouple my time from the money I earned but I hadn’t figured out a way to do it yet.
My first application was Chat-Bite (French game) and it is still running today. Back then I experienced the excitement of pressing F5 every two seconds to see the number of users increasing, it was truly exhilarating!
Since this first game, I have developed around twenty different Facebook applications with various partners (Social Whims) and implemented many different ways of monetizing a facebook application.
Some of the applications have peaked at a million users per day(targeting the French market only and while staying a fulltime employee) and brought in some good money.
But I have decided to move away from my Facebook development startup for the following reasons:
Dependency to Facebook
A major factor is that as a developer, you are dependent on Facebook platform changes.
As Facebook matures as a platform, it is changing its focus from growth to retention. It means that what was considered standard practices a year ago is now considered spammy. Their latest killing change was the removal of the notifications system, killing thousands of applications that were based on them.
Some companies are doing just fine in the Facebook ecosystem (Zynga), it is simply not the long term vision I have for my business.
Volatility of revenue
The subscription model is probably one of the most stable business models and very few Facebook applications are based on it, simply because of the nature of the applications.
Facebook applications are mainly casual and you can hardly charge a subscription for something they might use once in a while (some developers manage to do it though).
Although there has been weeks where the applications were earning USD3000 a day, overall it has been a constant struggle to keep a stable income.
Everything on Facebook is calling the attention of the users and as a developer you have to continuously innovate if you want to be the one they go to.
Scheduled notifications, “become a fan”, “add to bookmark”, rewards for inviting their friends, asking for their emails, creating a tight community were more or less effective depending on the current trend and the Facebook API evolution.
What works today might not work tomorrow because of a API change.
Value to people’s lives
Even if money was still good, I lost interest in developing Facebook applications after a year and a half. Most of my applications were mainly games and quizzes and there is a very thin line between entertaining people and wasting their time.
Let me explain what I mean. You want people to use your applications and come back so you use addictive gaming techniques (level up, competition, community, challenging yet achievable rewards, etc…) but you know that some of your users abuse your game and set up an alarm in the middle of the night to go and attack their friends in your game.
It is like owning a bottle shop, although most of your customers will simply have a nice time with their friends thanks to the additional help of some alcohol, you know that some of your customers will abuse it. How would you feel about it?
To me, it felt wrong. I felt that if I wanted to be able to spend time on a business on the long term, I needed an idea that was useful to my customers/users, no matter how much they “abuse” my idea.
There is little room for this kind of applications on Facebook. Except for the application Causes, there are very few useful or life changing applications and frankly the Facebook users couldn’t care less. They are on Facebook to be entertained.
My applications are slowly dying (especially since the removal of the notifications system) and I have no interest in updating my applications to comply with the continuous changes.
A lot of users would be sad if I put my applications offline simply because they have made true friends there so I choose to keep the applications alive.
My attention is now on my new venture, Wise Labs, that focuses on helping people achieve their goals (without being corny). The challenge is to create a profitable AND useful business.