Facebook Applications Trends Report #2 – Active Users
As some of you kindly reminded me, it’s about time to write another Facebook applications trends report. While the first report looked at the 100 most popular apps according to number of installs, this time I wanted to focus the analysis on active users. Thanks again for the extremely useful Adonomics for the data that made this possible. Now let’s see if we can add some knowledge on virality concepts and metrics on Facebook…
I must admit that I haven’t fully comprehended the metrics and architecture of active users across the whole range of applications functionlities but looking at the applications with the most active users can give us, I believe, a more truthful view on what makes a really good application. As some people have already noted there is a sense of ‘apps fatigue’ and this indeed reflected in the data. Still, according to recent report while there is for the first time a slow decrease in the apps fair, on average 51% Facebook users interacted with FB apps pages in January.
Most of the prevalent, multi-million installs apps have fairly low percentage of active users. Evidently, it is one thing to create a ‘viral’ application and get loads of users to install it (which occasionally been achieved with some dirty tricks and is getting increasingly difficult), but it is a different thing altogether to create a sustainable application, i.e. application that’s not just a passing gimmick but one that offer lasting value that people keep using over time.
Mind you, just 4 months ago when I wrote the first piece there were ‘only’ 8648 applications. There are now 20,046 (140 new apps uploaded everyday). With all the hype and noise it is easy to forget that there are very few thriving applications: only 168 have over 1 million users, 786 have 100K to 1 million, 2148 have 10K – 100K, 4293 have1K – 10k which leave us with 11,823 applications with less than 1K users – that’s a very long tail…
One of the most interesting trends I’ve noticed is a seemingly negative correlation between number of installs and active users. If you look for example at the top 50 applications (ignore the long tail) in each group (number of installs) you’ll find that the more installs you have, the less percentage of active users they have. Here are 3 screen grabs to illustrate this point:
As you can see, of the 160 top apps (over 1 million installs), there are only 9 with more than 10% active users, 29 with 4%-9% active users and 120 with 3% or less. It would have been nice (if not necessary) to juxtapose these findings with some timeline/adoption of installs as its only natural that newer apps will have more active users. My guess is that there is also high correlation between the people who are using these applications and new FB users (i.e. the 1% active users on zombies are those new to facebook, the rest are board and moved on). But let’s leave it for now and move on – please leave a comment if you want to discuss this further.
So in order to balance this a little and to get more insightful view I looked at the top 100 applications with over 1 million installs as well as the top 40 applications with 100K – 1Million. Ready?
The data reveal some very interesting themes. It gives us a hint on where facebook is now and where is it going. The categories I’ve used in the previous report haven’t changed much but there are some interesting new developments in form, content and architecture of applications.
Identity Formation / Social Comparison 44%
Identity formation and social comparison apps’ still generate the most prevalent trend in facebook apps. These applications enable varieties of social interactions that fulfill different social functions. Above all, they enable users to dynamically present a rich picture of themselves, helping us to exercise our identities and shape how we perceive ourselves and how we want to be perceived by others. Additionally, these apps allow us to compare and be compared and by that finding our place / space in our social matrix. Within this overall category one we can find the following:
Flirting games: This is the single largest category of popular facebook apps. Hot or not, flirtable, are you interested, will you kiss me, Likeness (the list is long), these apps serve a particular need for peers evaluation, social comparison and flirtatious interactions. They invite others to give us straightforward (or anonymous) feedback on how physically and socially attractive we are and by the popularity (average of 4% active users on the biggies, 12% on the newer apps’) of these apps people just love that stuff. Interestingly these interactions trivialised a behaviour which in our off-line social world happen to a large extent less blatantly. Yes we do gossip with each other on who’s hot etc but the volume of these apps allow people to participate in a massive collective truth or dare game. From these type of apps I found two two emerging sub trends.
First, a couple of applications that have grown massively in popularity and seem to be quite addictive (but might be just a passing fad) are what you can call social capital apps or put differently, Hot-or-Not with a market economy – friends for sale (13% active users) and owned (19%) that allow users to get a fiscal valuation of their worth, attach a price tag to their profile and buy/sell their friends are the latest Facebook craze (read more here)
Secondly if this category is mostly (but not exclusively) singletons’ planet then the shift from friendly flirtatious to upfront dating applications is only natural and facebook, I believe, is on its way to become the largest dating site in the world. I’ve spotted at least 5 different dating applications like spark (12%) , zoosk (8%) meet new people (9%) and Hotties for sale (34%). These, I predict will only grow in popularity.
Self presentations tools: This category consists of mostly “This is who I am” tools that allow users to present themselves to others. Sub categories include all kind of jokey meaning-making virtual pub games like what’s your stripper name? which cartoon are you?what kind of drunk are you? to name but a few. This is the second most popular category of facebook apps. However, the problem with these applications is that once you’ve done it and harassed your friends to do the same, the application sort of come to an end – like a joke, it’s a one-off thing and therefore the average active users is usually low (1%-2% on the older apps and 10%-15% on the more recent).
The popularity of this category proves that people are still interested in these amusing instant gratifications so my guess is that we’ll see a constant flood of them (coming soon: how much gay are you? what’s your fungus nickname? If you had a baby with Britney what would it look like?)
Second sub category is hobbies/interests and these seem to be more sustainable. Films (5%), music (3%), Dogbook (3%) potentially have longer shelf life. They provide people with more meaningful, lasting engagement and since they are based on people’s interests off-line they have far better longevity than the ‘phatic’ quizzes – we read new books, we watch new films we listen to new music and we like to share these experiences with our friends.
Phatic interactions / games 39%
We dealt with this category at length in the previous report so just to quickly refresh your memory, it comprises of all the apps used for establishing an atmosphere or maintaining social contact rather than exchanging of ideas, or, in other words, apps used to communicate sociability more than information. They allow us to interact with our friends without the need to say something or exchange anything meaningful – just to say wat’sup, really.
There are quite a lot of the rather irritating pokes and hugs (4% active users), zombies (2%), werewolves (2%) and the like, yet there is now a whole new generation of applications that facilitate slightly more than one-off interactions. From car races (8%) to environmental concern (14% – interesting case of a very popular cause-based phatic interaction), knighthood (10% fantasy game reported to be highly addictive), parking wars (29%) the architecture of these apps is designed to engage users beyond a single peep to a more lasting interactions (indeed some almost qualify to the next category, i.e. games).
One extremely popular app with close to 10 million installs and 12% active users is Bumper Sticker. It’s a good example for a phatic app with great longevity. Because it is based on verbal + visual communications it is far more open. But the key reason for the success of bumper sticker is that it created a community of fans, a LOLCATS-like sub-culture where people uploading their own stickers. There are over 40K stickers on the application page.
Games: these applications are traditional games adapted to facebook and they kick ass. On average they have higher percentage of active users. Poker (8% active users), chess (12%) puzzles, betting and mindjolt (10%) to name just a few are an easy win for people who have interest in a particular game. Leading this category is the hugely popular Scraboulus with the highest number of active users (22%) among the over 1 million users. I wonder if there’s any other app that can galvanise Facebook members into mounting a vigorous defense campaign if it would be removed. Just like in real life, games have good durability so they make for good applications with potentialy high levels of activity over time. The data shows that experiences designed for people and can adopted to facebook have more active users than made-to-facebook applications.
Tools / extensions / social management 17%
The applications in this final category (previously ‘other’), while vary in form/functionality are all those applications that enhance the experience and /or help people to organise their profiles and social lives. Their usage varied from occasional organisation to everyday interaction and therefore can have various percentages of active users. These can be break down into sub categories as follow:
Extensions: These tools do not carry any information – they enable/enhance/extend communications between users. Included in this category are the mobile (12% active users), and IM (1%) . Also included here are those tools that extend the basic Facebook experience like the killers apps super wall (9% active users) and fun wall (13%) – The brilliance of these apps and the reaon they are so successful is that people perceive as an organic part of FB (rather than a 3rd party addition) – they simply complement the platform and invisibly enhance the FB experience.
Profile management: From the likes of Top Friends (8% active users) and the wannabes, Best friends (2%), Entourage (2%), that enable users to visually organise their friends and to some extant to create hierarchy/architecture of relationships to utility apps like anti stalker (allows you to see who checked out your profile) and whose online.
Facebook applications fulfill different social-communicative needs, mostly to facilitate maintain sociality and keeping the network (and us) alive by keeping the communication flow. Very few of them offer real value beyond an occasional gag or to have a sense of purpose. In that sense I find the Adonomics evaluations rather flight of fancy…
As facebook matures, applications as a concept looses its novelty and users are more resistant and selective to invites, the apps that will thrive won’t be the vampires and the zombies. I cautiously predict that while in the near future we’ll keep seeing constant flood of phatic applications, it’s applications that have longevity because they offer either ongoing meaningful social interactions or utility of some sort that enhances the experience of facebook that will flourish in the future apps economy.
One can argue that that’s what people want, and that’s fair enough but I still hope that in the future we’ll see more applications that offer genuine, lasting utility – Marketers and developers – listen to David.
The opportunities with branded applications are yet to be realised. I’ve asked Facebook for some data as it’s impossible to dig among nearly 20K applications but unfortunately they couldn’t help. The easiest route is to engage people with ‘on brand’, humorous, culturally resonant ‘phatic interaction’ type of app (like the one Poke and Mother recently developed for KY Jelly UK – to launch this week). Think of it as simple interactive tools to extend your campaign that, if done well, can help raise awareness and build some emotional connections between people and the brand / product. Check out the recent Snickers widget
I can also imagine some transmedia branded applications that are tied for example to reality TV programs where people will be able to interact with content extensions, replay, compete, vote and get updates, news and gossip straight on their profile, as well as heros and villains of fantasy movies can play on the fields of the zombies and vampires space. We’ve already seen a good example of Sony taking over the vampire application for 30 days so there’s no reason not to build bespoke frodo, gimli and gandalf games.
As noted throughout this post, the concept of utility social applications is still up for grabs. It is always easier said than done (Can I take this opportunity to ask everyone to stop using NIKE+ as an example, it’s in a league of it’s own) but brands need to work hard if they want to participate on this clogged platform. As long as you’re not doing something overly lame that can backlash, it’s worth trying to experiment.
It doesn’t have to be a multi-million installs for it to be a winning app. If you manage to engage tens of thousands of your core consumers-fans with a meaningful interaction / experience you’ve done a pretty good job – there’s social life and WOM outside Facebook and the value you provide could come back at the back door…
Watch out for Poke’s Orange Wednesdays application to be launched in few days (Orange Wednesday is the most loved ongoing treat from Orange UK to it’s customers – every Wed you get 2-for-1 tickets at cinemas across the UK – one of the most brilliant marketing services ever). We’ve created a useful tool for people to extend the experience, making it easy to invite friends to the movies and complement the service by helping you decide on the movie you want to see, providing you with info from trailers and reviews as well as maps and directions.
Thanks for your time, I hope you found it useful. Let the conversation continue!