Archive for December, 2007

Sold out! Part III

December 26th, 2007

Here’s a link to the slides from the other presenters from our facebook expo. Lots of interesting ideas and data, even if it’s a little decontextualized without speakers’ notes.

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Sold out! Part II

December 13th, 2007

Here’s a nice outline of raw notes of the 2hrs of demos that we presented yesterday. It may or may not make sense to you if you aren’t involved in the space, or if you didn’t actually attend the event.

One other note: Facebook changed it’s status function by removing the previously mandatory ‘is’. I think that the students that created ‘Super Status’ can claim credit for finally swaying Facebook to make this change. I imagine that many facebook app developers and even facebook employees themselves will be applying the lessons that we learned in this class.

[Revised: I’ve been informed by my friend Dean that facebook had been rolling the changes to a subset of users as early as last week. In other words, the change cannot be attributed to our presentation on Thursday. It seems that the change was just a weird coincidence.]

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Sold Out! 10 million in 10 weeks

December 12th, 2007

Look ma! Someone decided to post a video of my presentation last night on a prominent facebook blog.

My Stanford class on facebook apps is wrapping up. As a class of 80 students, we created 40 or so applications that run within facebook’s social network. As of last night, more than 16 million people had installed these applications.

Anyway, our class presented the results last night at Bay Chi to 400 people, including a hundred people who watched on video screens in an overflow room and dozens of others who were turned away at the door. Tonight, we’ll repeat the exercise tonight to an even bigger audience at the Stanford Alumni center.

How were these applications able to be so successful? Below is a transcript of my three minute speech or you can watch this 1 min 52 sec screencast that is almost identical in content or grab the slides or handout. This framework was created by Xingxin Liu, BJ Fogg and me.


Six patterns for success. We conducted a bottoms-up analysis of the top 100 facebook apps according to Appsaholic. We found six patterns and then classified them. Native patterns are tightly integrated in the profile pages and rely heavily on friend selector and other functionality exposed by facebook, whereas adapted patterns do not.

Within native patterns, you can take actions or create artifacts that are either individually- or group-directed. For example in 1A, provoke and retaliate apps allow a user to perform an action on a friend. This genre includes apps like KissMe, Hugs, Zombies and X Me. In 2B by contrast, group exchange apps allows users to create and share artifacts collectively. This genre includes the top 2 apps, SuperWall and FunWall and others like BumperSticker.

Within adapted patterns, ‘competition’ adapts popular games like Scrabble, poker and video games to a social context. Adapted patterns, however, are cross-cutting: many native apps include Leaderboards and status levels to foster competition. Meanwhile, many apps include ‘deceptive’ like misleading fake facebook buttons and other navigation to trick users into install other apps.

Here is Bless You, a class app that reached 200k users in 20 days. It is quite simple: send friend a bless by one click.

Bless You - 1

Bless You fits the ‘Provoke& Retaliate’ Pattern. However, it includes other patterns too: a level system for competing, top lists for comparing, profile box for self-expression and group exchange; and ‘deceptive’ navigation.
Bless You - 2

We coded every app by primary pattern in the top 100 and aggregated the data in this chart. Deception is common but secondary, so we have omitted it. Some observations:
1. A small number of Group exchange apps reach many users and are highly engaging
2.Reveal & Compare appears to be faddish – large reach but low engagement
3. Compete is highly engaging within a niche
Facebook Stats

Which applications from tonight’s presentation fit into which patterns? Hopefully, these patterns offer one useful way to think about why these apps were so successful. Questions? We’re Michael Weiksner, Xingxin Liu and BJ Fogg. Please see us at intermission, and I have about 100 copies of our handout if your interested. Thank you.

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December 10th, 2007

This video conferencing technology is quite good. For some weird reason, iChat has been the only even slightly passable video chat technology. Skype kinda works, but it is too complex. Well, TokBox has had the simple idea of hosting video chat on a web site — and it seems to work pretty well. You can have up to six people on the call at the same time. And you can embed it on your web site or forum. I’m going to put the code here, so if you have a web cam click on it and we can test how well it works!

Get your own TokBox at

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A Framework for Engagement on Facebook

December 9th, 2007

I argue that (1) there is a hierarchy of identity, and (2) that engagement increases as you move up this hierarchy. Furthermore, (3) your identity has two distinct but interactive components: social and personal. These three claims suggest a framework that we can use to map activities, both from web 2.0 and the real world. The framework can also be used to put facebook in historical context.

There is a hierarchy of identity: formation, expression and irrelevance. Identity formation (and change) is the highest level. In formation, you define who you are, what makes you different from others and what makes you similar to others. Hierarchy of IdentityFor example, a teen may explore extreme expressions of identity like coloring his hair or attending radical political meetings at school as he figures out whom he really is. Most people form their identity as young adults, although some people change significant aspects of their identities later in life especially around life stages like marriage, having children or retiring.

Expression is the middle level. Although not as intense as formation, you care a lot about projecting your preferences and other aspects of your identity. For example, you can express yourself by distributing a business card or through your car and mobile phone purchases. Expression can also be private, in the sense of gratifying your desires. For example, collecting things or taking care of a pet can be expression. Expression reinforces an identity that you have already formed.

Irrelevance is at the lowest level. Much of what you do has little impact on your identity. For example, you take hundreds of small actions like turning a key clockwise to open a door are completed, often thoughtlessly, without any change to your sense of self. Even typically engaging activities, e.g., politics, may elicit no response from people reject it as irrelevant to their lives.

Engagement tends to increase as you move up the hierarchy of identity. When you are forming your identity or involved in identity-formation activities, you must become more engaged. You date more, you have more late night bull sessions—you are more open to new ideas and people. You can be passionate about expressing your identity, but it is distinctly less engaging than identity formation. You likely prefer to promote your ideas than to be challenged on them and you are more likely to seek like-minded friends to achieve your goals rather than waste time redefining the goals or convincing them to join your side. Finally, irrelevancy breeds apathy not engagement. If you find politics irrelevant, you may not be engaged enough even to bother to vote.

Personal and social identities are distinct but interactive. Personal identity is what distinguishes me from others, whereas social identity is what I have in common with others. For example, your personal identity includes your music preferences, sexual orientation, your profession, etc. Your social identity includes political, university, social and other group affiliations (whether formal or informal.) Your personal identity may include some of your social identity, and vice versa. In fact, personal and social identities powerfully interact to contribute to your overall, integrated identity.

You can map activities on these two hierarchies, both from web 2.0 and the real world activities. Some real-world activities, like writing a personal diary, are about forming your personal identity but are largely irrelevant as part of your social identity. Other activities, like a rave, are highly social but completely anonymous.

Engagement Landscape

Similarly, you can place web 2.0 sites . Since MySpace allows you to have many anonymous or fake profiles, it is likely that you’ll be less invested in the profile than one on facebook. Even still, a MySpace profile isn’t much fun if you don’t use it to create and join social groups. Plaxo is somewhat social, since your email contacts in aggregate help define your social groups. But there is little incentive to invest anything personal in a Plaxo account. LinkedIn is similar to Plaxo, but it has more opportunities like recommendations to invest personally into the platform.

To be engaging, advertisers and creators of persuasive technology should focus on helping people create or at least express their identity, socially, personally or better yet, both at the same time. For example, Pepsi has sponsored “Starring You” Christmas cards on that invite you to upload pictures of your friends and family as characters in short animated skits.

This framework yields some possible insights into how and why facebook has been such a success. College has always been a time and place for personal identity formation, so it is a natural place for an engaging social network to develop. It is a time when people discover who they are and start joining and feeling attached to social groups.

But every generation has had to struggle with these issues – what makes facebook different? As traditional social groups from political parties to bowling leagues erode, facebook provides a new way for the “echo boom” to redefine social institutions. Facebook is not just a better way to form your personal and social identities; the facebook generation has a privileged place in our society due to its size. If facebook wants to transform social institutions as it has interpersonal relationships, it needs to build more features to support organizations like single sign on, ‘Pages’ and ‘Groups.’

And I speculate: I believe facebook’s brand of personal and social engagement is here for generations. Facebook transforms the college experience much as the ‘60s transformed the college experience when baby boomers were in school. But without lasting social change, the facebook site itself risks being another fad like friendster.

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So true!

December 5th, 2007

This video simply captures silicon valley life for the past ten years perfectly. Hat tip to Madhu, Nat, and the others who bombarded me with it…now it’s my turn to be on the sending end of it.

[I had to change the embedded video because YouTube took down the original version. It’s so annoying that they don’t know how to apply fair use correctly, but at least the video is still available.]

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Steve Jobs on Life

December 3rd, 2007

This video is not particularly timely or relevant in any way, but I really liked the message of his speech at Stanford’s graduation. Amazing man, amazing life.

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