LinkedIn Looks Out For Users By Opening Platform

Reid Hoffman has announced that his professional social networking tool, LinkedIn, has opened up its platform to third party developers. The current roll out includes a suite of, eight external and one internal, apps that are aimed at enhancing user productivity through file sharing, project management, arranging business trips etc.

IGNite The Site Applications Competition Launches at MySpace devJam

At today’s MySpace devJam in Sydney I launched the IGNite the Site competition. With a cash prize of $4,000 and the opportunity for the winning app to be showcased to over 2.5 million MySpace users, this is a fantastic opportunity for Australian and New Zealand app developers.

To be in the running, developers will need to utilise the MySpace Developer Platform to create an app that both promotes and captures the spirit of, the number one gaming and entertainment website in the region.  The winner will be selected after the competition closes on Friday, 5 September 2008 and the judges will be looking for originality and usability and the app’s ability to promote IGN to the masses.

Go here for more info, and to submit an entry send a friedn request for your app to with the title of your app and your contact details.

[Disclosure: Randal Leeb-du Toit is an adviser to Fox Interactive Media, the parent company of both MySpace and IGN.]

Social Media Apps: Showing the Way

In this piece I’ve written for Digital Ministry , I  discuss why developers should take an interest in social media apps and provide some key tips for building successful apps.

Why do social media apps matter?

RockYou, one of the leading app developers has over 150 million app views a day. Across their ad network they are receiving 2 billion pageviews a month.
To achieve such scale takes hard work, but it is achievable.

When BJ Fogg and Dave McClure decided to run a course on Persuasive Apps & Metrics at Stanford University the Facebook platform was already up and running. So they decided that students attending the course would use Facebook as a ‘petri dish’.

The result was over 50 apps created by 75 students with a total install base of 20 million and a total daily active user rate of 925,000. Five of the apps created by the students hit the Facebook Top 100 and almost $1 million in revenue was generated in 6 months. The course also led to 5 commercial projects, 3 companies being formed and 2 companies being acquired.

The key learnings that came out of the course were:
1. It’s never too late to create a winning app – when the course launched, over 6000 Facebook apps existed, 10 weeks later, students already had 5 apps in the top 100;
2. Simplicity and clarity are key to app success – apps need to be easily understood with a clear value proposition and they should be easy to use. Clever names and too many features are will stall user acceptance;
3. Speed and flexibility in both launch and iterations is key – many crummy trials beat deep thinking, flexibility beats quality. Don’t get too attached to one app idea;
4. Community cooperation leads to success – sharing code, tips, insights and listening to the community are great ways to leverage up your individual skill base;
5. Individual opinions about an app are worthless – don’t be swayed by one person’s opinion, just get the app out there and see what happens;
6. Copying success is a cheap/fast way to succeed – novelty isn’t the best approach to apps. The flipside – if your app is doing well, expect imitators; and
7. Metrics do matter, but today’s tools are too weak – instrument your apps to track viral aspects.

Over the past year a lot of action has taken place in the social media arena. Facebook launched its app platform in May 2007. A few months later Open Social arrived. Open Social is a common open set of APIs for building social applications across multiple sites. The MySpace Developer Platform has since emerged as the largest implementation of Open Social.

The stats over the past 12 months reveal that over 24,000 apps have been made, 95% of social network users have installed an app. One of the key successes to these social media platforms has been and continues to be the opportunities that developer have to monetise.

The company SocialMedia, which runs an advertising suite has paid out over $8 million to its network of 1,000 developers on Facebook and OpenSocial through May 2008. The company itself secured $4m in financing and has grown to have 25 staff and expects to generate revenue in the double digit millions for fiscal year 2008.

In short – social media apps matter, big time and web developers, strategists and marketers should sit up and taken notice.

The Web as Social Media

The Web is quickly changing from being purely informational to becoming more social. This can be seen by the rise in popularity of social networks, with their users becoming more and more engaged. These social networks are part of a growing fabric of social platforms, onto which apps are spreading.

Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester, sees social networks becoming ‘like air’. Within this ubiquitous fabric, applications are an extremely effective way to micro-touch and communicate with users.

There are four points Li calls on developers to remember when considering what apps to build:
1. Create compelling social experiences, not social graph lock-in
2. Develop social apps that have meaning
3. Integrate into existing activities
4. Design business models that reflect the value created by people?s social networks

When designing apps developers need to find a balance between virality and engagement. Virality involves getting users to spread to others with one users causing at least one more user to install the app. Engagement on the other hand involved building individual user experience, increasing pageviews and loyalty.

Achieving viral engagement is the nirvana for app developers. RockYou identifies that there are four distinct audiences, all of whom require different approaches for increasing viral engagement.

The first group is new users. By building clean flows and focusing on linear, one-action flows developers can maximise new user activation. Requiring new users to register can severely diminish uptake.

The second group is direct friends. Apps need to communicate a clear value proposition to a new user for inviting their friend network to install that app. The invitation itself should be within one or two steps of a new user installing so as to maximise that user’s viral value.

The third group is indirect friends. With this group the focus needs to be on messaging –  friends of friends will be driven to install apps that communicate increasing and simply understood value via newsfeed or profile messages and notifications.

The fourth and final group is interested parties. Simple tools such as answers, comments and ratings allow for interaction without full engagement and can drive more universal use of an app.

There are a number of other factors to take into account when building apps – including genre and demographic targeting, creating viral loops and building in monetisation hooks. If you would like to learn more about the huge opportunity social media apps represent contact me at rand at metarand dot com.
In addition, I’m hosting a series of MySpace devJams during the month of July at which developers can learn more about building social media apps. For more details of these events check out: .

Announcing MySpace devJams across Australia

Following on from an awesome devJam in Sydney on June 5th, I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to be hosting a further three events in Australia in July.

These events are a must attend for everyone who codes and has an interest in building social media apps.

There will be door prizes and the opportunity to head over to San Francisco and/or Tokyo – read more about these opportunities and each of the events from the following links:

We are working on rolling out similar events in other major cities across Australia.

I’d like to thank the guys from Mitchellake for providing us with their uber cool offices for these events.

MySpace devJam wrapup

Yesterday I hosted a MySpace devJam day in Sydney. Despite the wintry weather we had an excellent turn out of switched on developers keen to get to grips with the MySpace Developer Platform.

Daniel Reyes, the local Head of Engineering for MySpace gave a detailed run through on building apps and did a blow by blow of his IOU app.

Jeremy Lebard spoke about his personal library app, Booktagger, and praised the MySpace dev team for their quick response time.

This was followed by Jodee Rich giving a demo of Peoplebrowsr – a far more visual meta aggregator than FriendFeed. I’ll bring you more on this great product in due course.

A big hat tip to the Australian MySpace team for making their assistance in making this event happen.  I can also highly recommend the Ideas Finder at Naked as a venue for brain storming – they have a great crew who are keen to make your experience special.

I’ll be hosting a few more devJams shortly, including a specific social gaming session. Stay tuned.

More coverage:

Kate Carruthers

Flushing The Data Portaloo: The Looming Portability Squareoff With Users

How close are we to true data portability? It depends who is asking the question as to how it gets answered.

As one of the chief catalysts for the current wave of discussion and (some) action, Chris Saad, points out none of the current high profile implementations are completely true to the overall understanding of portability.

Writing on his blog, Chris sees Facebook Connect, Google’s Friend Connect and MySpace’s Data Availability as important first steps. They are the first shots across the bow to the industry that a data portability battle is coming.

That battle will involve a squareoff between the user: me, you – and the networks collectively.

I like Chris’s address book analogy:

DataPortability is about a different social contract – a contract more closely resembling the one found in the email address book.

My address book is my own. When you email me, or when you communicate with me, you are revealing something about yourself. You define a social contract with me that means that I can use your information to contact you whenever and however I like – I could even re-purpose my address book for all manor of other things.

If, however, you violate that trust, either directly or indirectly, you break the social contract and I will tend to not deal with you again. We can not perfectly engineer these sorts of contracts into systems – we can try, but in the end social behavior will be the last mile in enforcing user rights.

Also, the dichotomy between who ‘owns’ the data is false. In my mind there is shared ownership. While you use a service, it is a shared custodianship of the data. By giving the service your data you’re getting something else in return – utility. In many cases free utility.

You personally, however, have shared (and overriding) ownership over your data. This has been declared as universally true by all the vendors I’ve spoken to.

The question is not one of ownership though, it’s one of control. If you own your data but can’t control it as you choose then ownership is a mute point. Further, the question is not one of if you own it, but rather how much of it you own.

For example, do you own your friends profile data since you have access to it via the social tool you are using? Or have they only granted you access within that social context and under that social contract. These considerations blur the analogy of the purely personal address book.

So where does this leave us. The industry continues to engage in discussion and analyse the meaning of both data portability and the current implementations. As long as this dialogue continues the looming squareoff will remain just that – looming. We are in a honeymoon period in which users are coming to grips with their rights and freedoms and comparing the various networks to determing whether and to what extent they are being violated.

For now, data portability continues to have relevancy and I do not believe our rights have been flushed away. However, I would encourage all players to listen very carefully to the conversation going on.

As I’ve said many times: the Internet giveth, the Internet taketh away – and it can do both with blinding speed. This is especially relevant for Facebook, given the current meme around its intentions started by Umair Haque.

UPDATE: Robert Scoble has a sound analysis of the situation, after an initial misunderstanding on his part. Have a read, the best part is him putting his participation on the Gillmor Gang on mute, having a shower and then coming back on the show. I know it’s been hot in the Bay area the last few days, but this is hilarious and about all the GG seems good for – cooling off.

[Picture courtesy of willgrant]

Appspace: Conde Nast Widens Net To Include MySpace

CondeNet, the online division of content provider Conde Nast Publications, has launched four applications on the MySpace Developer Platform.

Based around their portfolio, which includes Epicurious, Style and Wired, these apps are one of the first major forays by a big content provider onto the MySpace Developer Platform.

Fashion Flash, the Style app, offers an inside scoop on fashion, shopping, beauty and celebrity style.

For Epicurious, Recipe of the Day serves up a different food recipe every day and the Wired Gadget Lab app brings Wired gadget news directly to MySpacers.

The fourth app, flipbook creator, can be used to make and share online scrapbooks or flipbooks. Users can upload photos, video, music and rotate, resize, crop images, draw freestyle, write text and then share the flipbook with their friends.

[Disclosure: metarand’s Randal Leeb-du Toit is an advisor to MySpace’s parent company, Fox Interactive Media]

Appspace: $15M First Round Funding For Social Gaming Network

The creators of social network game apps like Warbook and Jetman, Social Gaming Network has raised a weighty $15M in first round funding. The previous highest first round in this category was $10M, which went to Mark Pincus’s Zynga Networks.

Spun out of Freewebs, SGN has located itself in Silicon Valley and is led by Shervin Pishevar. He’s secured this round from Greylock Partners, Founders Fund, Columbia Capital and Novak Biddle Venture Partners.

This funding comes on the back of some healthy installs and DAU rates across Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and hi5. To date, SGN has attracted over 1 billion page views, 54 million installs and almost 1.1 million daily active users.

Wagner James Au spoke with Shervin:

While Social Gaming Network’s low-graphics games aren’t likely to be confused with a next-gen title, he told me, they’re successful enough. “Small is the new big, right?” Games like Warbook can be made with a low budget, he noted. “Even having a 100,000 daily active users is good revenue.” (At peak usage with a sponsorship deal, he said, Warbook was making $100,000 a month.) “We’re much more about engagement and retentions than virality,” Pishevar told me.

Over the next few months, Shervin Pishevar and his small team will be working on several top secret games that’ll leverage advertising and virtual item sales for revenue. While still relatively low budget, he’s working with developers to give these new titles more polish. The goal, said Pishevar, is to transform Social Gaming Network into “the Pixar of social games.”

[Disclosure: metarand’s Randal Leeb-du Toit is an advisor to MySpace’s parent company, Fox Interactive Media and Chairman of app developer, Creative Enclave, which has released the massively multiplayer game, Imperial Galaxy on Facebook]

And Coming In Third, Here Comes Google

TechCrunch has broken the news that Google intends following MySpace’s Data Availability and Facebook’s Connect with an Open Social product called Friend Connect.

Similarly this will be a set of APIs for Open Social participants to pull profile information from social networks into third party websites.

Perhaps if Google had played nice with Open Social all along they would not be third to market and other players would’ve followed Open Social more closely.

[picture courtesy of squarewithin]

Has Facebook Slipped Into Fast Follower Mode

Somewhere in the last 24 hours it seems that the tables have turned in the social networking arena.

Over the past few months its been Facebook that strutted around with that smug look on its collective “face”, the look that said, “We are the thought leaders”.

Perhaps the glow they were basking in, courtesy of having released their developer platform before any other competitors, blinded them to the shift taking place in user perceptions. Perhaps their board was too busy focusing on trying to land some adult supervision. Either way, after yesterday’s Data Availability announcement by MySpace, Facebook has slid behind MySpace.

Facebook’s announcement of Facebook Connect ensures the company remains in MySpace’s slipstream, but they will need to lift their game if they want to keep up. Perhaps Dave Morin and the Facebook platform team should’ve been spending less time on the slopes over winter.

[Disclosure: I am an advisor to MySpace’s parent, Fox Interactive Media, picture courtesy of Treforlutions]