The Coming Darwinism of IPhone Apps

There's an App for That -- for Now

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Chris Cunningham
Chris Cunningham
I'm confident that if Charles Darwin were here today, he'd have something to teach us about apps.

I've been fortunate to be at the forefront of apps. Prior to starting my company, I was leading the charge for the app's predecessor, the widget, and this led to my fascination with Facebook's 2007 move to open its API to third-party developers and publishers. And what I've seen on Facebook -- a winnowing down of the number of apps -- will soon be happening to the iPhone platform.

Consider the evolution over the past two years: According to Facebook statistics, there are more than 350,000 active apps on the Facebook Platform. But of that massive number, just 250 have more than a million monthly active users. That means less than a fraction of a percent of all the apps created provide enough "value" -- whether that's entertainment, community, utility or fun -- to attract a sizable audience.

Remember the Send a Pizza app? It was one of the early, successful apps on Facebook. People were sending pizzas to friends all over the social network. When was the last time you sent a pizza, let alone received one? Today the monthly active users of Send a Pizza total a whopping 323.

Sending a virtual pizza, in the case of Send a Pizza, had no value. It was basically someone spamming your Facebook page, despite the good intentions. However, if you're playing a Facebook-based card game and you just won a big hand, sending a pizza via the game's virtual goods market -- effectively rubbing it in that you just took a bunch of a friend's chips -- well, now, there's value in that. See the difference? One delivers no value, while the other drives the social aspect of the game, keeps the poker table lighthearted and, most of all, delivers fun. In Texas Hold'em, you can send all sorts stuff from a box of tissues to wipe away the tears, to a mug of beer to drown sorrows, to a cigar to enjoy the moment, and much more.

Apps that provide value are experiencing tremendous success, not to mention attracting significant advertising dollars. Take Circle of Moms community on Facebook -- one of the 250 or apps that are reaching more than a million monthly active users. (Disclaimer: we work with Circle of Moms.) Circle of Moms, which is built on Facebook, has established itself as a web destination. With more than 2.3 million monthly active moms, Circle of Moms understands its audience -- moms -- and advertisers targeting that audience have realized it's not a place to slap up banners but a place to offer up relevant content and promotion.

On Facebook over the past year, we've seen Darwinism in apps. Is the iPhone next? The latest TV spot talks about that there are more than 85,000 apps available for the iPhone. That's far from the 350,000 on Facebook, but it's a lot of apps. Will iPhone apps travel the same road as Facebook apps -- the road to quality, not quantity? I think the answer is pretty clear. If you're an app developer for Facebook, the iPhone or both, think about value first.

The app developer community is incredibly smart -- I know, we've partnered with many of the leading companies. But before building developers and publishers should step back, ensure that what's about to be built fills a need in the marketplace, makes someone's life easier or more fun. If not, it's time to go back to the whiteboard.

And if you're an advertiser and you want to send a brand message to an audience over and over, move along. Social media marketing isn't about advertising. It is about joining the conversation, not interrupting it. If you're not focused on that, you've already been left behind.

Chris Cunningham is founder and CEO of Appssavvy, a direct sales team for the social media space. Follow him on Twitter.
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