I’ve worked on several Facebook Applications since the beginning of the year and although none of them have been massively successful hits, I’ve learned a couple of things about developing Facebook Applications. Hopefully, I can share some of what I’ve learned and experienced. I’m not going to talk much about the technical development process but instead, more of the marketing and business aspects. I’m also going to try to not make broad assumptive conclusions based on my experiences but instead, share my experiences and give conclusions that I’m pretty confident in. Some of us are making applications because we want to share our great ideas with the world but, all of us would like to monetize our ideas–don’t lie, you know you do. 🙂

Facebook launched their application platform in the middle of 2007 and it has done very well since. Thousands of people have made applications for it and some businesses have sprouted from it. I was generally cautious of the Facebook Platform and did not look into it until mid-January of 2008. As of today, I have four active Facebook Applications that were developed solely by me and one other that I worked on. My applications aren’t drawing any significant number of daily active users–I don’t even have an application that has 1000 installs yet. The total combined user base of all my applications probably falls in around 1500 – 2000 installs. It isn’t impressive but, keep reading.

I haven’t put much polish in my applications simply due to the fact that I don’t know what the return on these applications are. My first app is just a Flash remake of Pong: Old School Tennis. There is no social or viral features to that application, I was just dipping my toes in the water. That application has around 200 installs which surprises me every day due to its utter lack of features but, I guess Pong is just a fun distraction. My second go at the platform delivered me my, arguably, most successful application so far: My Bookshelf. My Bookshelf still needs a lot of polish and feature additions. My vision for it was a lot more grand than what it currently is. The biggest difference between other applications like it is the shelf display that was done in Flash so it has a nice scrolling view. I’ve spent the most time developing My Bookshelf and it produces the most money in advertising revenue–it accounts for about 80% – 90% of my daily Facebook revenue through Social Media.

My fastest growing and most complete Facebook Application is FlipCup Challenge based on the drinking game of the same name–minus “Challenge”. It has the social features that should be expected in a Facebook game like high scores amongst your friends, global high scores, challenges–hence the name–and the ability to invite your friends. FlipCup Challenge is growing at a faster rate than My Bookshelf but has not produced nearly as much revenue. While My Bookshelf suffers from a very poor retention rate–I believe due to its lack of polish–FlipCup does a very good job keeping users who have installed it. This leads me to believe that a certain level of polish is indeed necessary even though games like Zombies were pretty rudimentry and managed to attract millions of installs. The landscape for Facebook Applications is changing and developers are going to have to make more sophisticated applications in order to compete as the platform grows and matures.

By Robert Smith

John Smith: John, a former software engineer, shares his insights on software development, programming languages, and coding best practices.