Saturday, 1 December 2007


In a recent posting on Top Facebook Applications I wrote about how there were two economies of Facebook: the have-app - where people merely installed apps; and the use-app, where they were active. Facebook say that 80% of members have used at least one application built on the Facebook platform. There are now over 7,000 applications and 100 new ones added every day. But what decides whether an app becomes used versus just installed? I found one explanation in an usual source.

I recently started re-reading The World of Goods (listed below in my recommended books), and came across data on the distribution of television and telephone services in 1958 in the UK. I said it was unusual source!

Although television became commercially available in the 1930s and the telephone was introduced as early as 1877, the TV had a much higher level of distribution by 1958. The percentage of households owning a TV was 52percent, and telephone was a miserable 16.5percent of households. Both of them were new communications media, so why the difference?

The spreading rate was much higher within the higher social groups for telephones, because the lower social groups saw the phone as a luxury. TV was considered more of necessity than a phone, particularly when you consider that the number of TV-watching hours in a household goes up, as social class goes down. TV helped these people 'belong' to their social groups.
Conversely, the telephone was perceived as a luxury, because 'I am not likely to have friends with telephones who will telephone me, so I hardly need to install one in my home'. However, the data above shows that amongst the higher classes the telephone had already moved from being a luxury to a necessity, which they used to organise the much higher amount of free time and social engagements they had. The lesson here is that an idea works if it can make itself a necessary part of what it takes to belong to the social group.

This thinking is a useful tool when considering how people are using Facebook. The apps that become used will be the ones that are central to connecting with your friends, and participating in your social network. Topfriends is the most successful app on Facebook with 2,281,105 daily active users which is 10% of its total users. The app helps you easily find and communicate with your best friends.

It's success is achieved using a simple idea: flattery. If you are invited to be a Topfriend you respond to the flattery; and who doesn't want to have their own Topfriends. So the idea is inherently viral, which explains its high user figure, but its excitement is limited to that fleeting moment of invitation to be a Topfriend, which also explains its low activity level. You can send drinks to Topfriends, share secret photos, and check your visual personality.
The telephone is now close to 100% spread through society. I have trouble seeing Topfriends achieving the same usage rate on Facebook.