Monday, October 08, 2007

Facebook Applications & the Long Tail

For those of you not hip to these things, there is an Internet phenomenon known as Social Networks. They are basically automated personal website construction kits (like GeoCities was, back in the mid-90s) where your site is mostly limited to your "profile" template, combined with a list of your friends and tag clouds, which are a set of keywords (typically interests, music you like, etc.), which are then cross-indexed with those of your friends and everybody else.

Why, you might ask? Well, today's youth love to share everything about themselves. They don't care so much about privacy. And if you have a profile on such sites, you can search for like-minded people.

I became aware of this trend with Friendster. Friendster grew popular -- so popular that it's architecture was not strong enough to handle the load. Shortly thereafter, a new site arrived, mySpace, and people left Friendster in droves. mySpace is ugly, but it functioned well-enough that it absorbed much of Friendster's users and grew like wildfire. It added more stuff to do with your network.

And then it got bought by Robert Murdoch for half a billion dollars. Go figure. The younger brother of a smarter social network with health problems takes over the world. Then the prim and neat youngest brother could possibly do even better.

But not long after, Facebook arrived. It was lean and clean, and it was conservative about who was allowed to join it (invite-only), at first limited to college students. It began to offer MORE things to do with your network, but then it did something unusual -- it gave away the plans to its innards. Now anyone with some programming skill can develop his own "thing to do" on your network, to share with everyone on the system.

So over the last year or so, there have been thousands of applications developed.

Today I read an article about how 45 of these have more than 100,000 users; the rest have much less. 87% of the usage goes to just 84 of the applications! Considering that Facebook has an alleged valuation near $10 billion, I agree with the author that this ecosystem is "a Long-Tail with a vengeance."

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posted by Brian at 6:17 PM 0 comments links to this post