Facebook: The startup sandbox

by Mathew on January 25, 2008 · 9 comments

I think it’s a bit much to be calling Facebook’s platform the “new social operating system,” but then I guess when your blog is called Knowledge@Wharton you kind of have to pump things up a bit. What I do think has been happening is that more and more companies are treating it as a kind of sandbox for ideas — a place to try out a small feature or even a full-fledged app, to see whether there’s enough response to make it an actual business, or to seed an actual business.

You can see this happening with all kinds of different companies: Alec Saunders is doing a kind of online podcast/conference call to publicize the free-conference-calling app that he and his team at Iotum in Ottawa have put together; my new friend David Gratton from Project Opus in Vancouver has an app called MixxMaker that is a kind of proof-of-concept for a music-sharing technology; and along the same lines, Ian Andrew Bell of Something Simpler in Vancouver recently told me about his app, Pul.se, which is a kind of recommendation engine.

I’m sure there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other examples. As more than one person has pointed out, however, getting so firmly attached to the Facebook economy can be a Catch-22: you start your app there in order to experiment and gain users, but then once you gain enough to make it worthwhile, you are stuck fast to Facebook and it’s hard to end a symbiotic relationship like that. Companies such as iLike eventually decided to hitch their wagon entirely to Facebook and de-emphasize the standalone service. But is that a wise decision?

Update:

Pema Hagen, a co-founder of GigPark, mentions in the comments here that they just launched their Facebook app last night. GigPark is a social recommendation engine for goods and services. And this news could make developing apps for Facebook even more appealing: the site is apparently making the F8 platform part of its API, so apps could theoretically be made to run anywhere.

  • http://www.graduallythensuddenly.com Daniel Gibbons

    I think the key concept is “Facebook economy”. It's not like hitching your wagon to Google via AdSense, since the monetization strategy is well defined and proven. Even if there are risks in being so dependent on Google, at least there is real money to be made. And as Markus Frind has demonstrated it can scale to numbers well beyond the “lifestyle business” level. In Facebook's case they've got to create a functional economy of their own before anyone can really determine the implications for app developers of being so closely aligned.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's an excellent point, Daniel. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.gigpark.com Pema Hegan

    Your timing is uncanny Mathew – we launched the GigPark facebook application last night… http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id

    For us, Facebook is one of a few important places GigPark should be available. Since GigPark is all about finding services with the help your friends, we need to be where friends communicate – and Facebook is definitely one of those places.

    You're dead right that Facebook is a great place to test ideas, but I think for services like ours that get better when your friends are involved, offering your service through Facebook is almost essential.

    I believe being platform agnostic is the name of the game. There was a good quote from James Hong of Hot or Not about this in a TechCruch article last year: “I have really stopped thinking of Hot or Not as a destination site and worry about how many people are using our service no matter where they are … People will go where they will go. The world is evolving.”

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's an excellent point, Pema — if you are to build something that takes
    advantage of network effects, then you need to find people wherever they
    are. Thanks for that.

  • http://www.davidrdgratton.com David Gratton

    I'm not sold on the actual long term value of facebook as the sole platform for building one's business. Building facebooks apps is predicated on the assumption that the vast majority of your intended users are members of Facebook. Clearly that is not the case today. However, there presently no other platform with the features or user base that developers can test their social apps. If you can build a successful facebook application (that doesn't rely on enhancing facebooks present communication features – Superwall, etc.) then I think you can certainly extend it outside of facebook.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think you're right, David — and the news about the API including widgets
    makes that even easier now, it seems.

  • http://www.davidrdgratton.com David Gratton

    I'm not sold on the actual long term value of facebook as the sole platform for building one's business. Building facebooks apps is predicated on the assumption that the vast majority of your intended users are members of Facebook. Clearly that is not the case today. However, there presently no other platform with the features or user base that developers can test their social apps. If you can build a successful facebook application (that doesn't rely on enhancing facebooks present communication features – Superwall, etc.) then I think you can certainly extend it outside of facebook.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I think you're right, David — and the news about the API including widgets
    makes that even easier now, it seems.

  • Pingback: facebook applications: use or be used » nickbouton.com

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