Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Children's Hour: Facebook Apps Are for Toddlers (There, We Said It)

Fine, call me a grumpy old lady, because I don’t want to pass around a toasty complex carbohydrate globally.


Right now on Facebook, I have been trying to decide what to do near on two weeks or more, after receiving a “Hot Potato” tossed to me by my old boss, Washington Post Co. CEO and Chairman Don Graham (oh, yes–his family also owns a key hunk of the legendary paper, too).

For those who don’t know what a digital Hot Potato is: It is a widget (also called a third-party app) created by a very nice-looking group of guys at a design outfit called Hungry Machine for the Facebook platform.

“You have to pass it on and watch it travel around the world. 27,012 other people did!”

With all due respect to Don Graham (who is a mentor of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, by the way), Hungry Machine and all world-trotting spuds, I don’t think so.

I get it, I get it. Millions upon millions of people are downloading and using these apps, part of a very clever ecosystem Zuckerberg unleashed in late May.

Under the scheme, widget-makers got to go wild on Facebook and Facebook got to offload a chunk of its feature development onto others. (See my movie below of the f8 launch, including a somewhat awkward Zuckerberg on the stage.)

At that event, a 750-person jeans-and-T-shirt-clad army of Web developers gathered at the San Francisco Design Center’s Concourse and began to create even more apps in earnest with an all-night hackathon.

“Until now, social networks have been closed platforms,” said Zuckerberg at the event, calling on outside developers to integrate their applications into the service. “Today, we’re going to end that.”

But, so far, as popular as those apps have become, what Zuckerberg and the widget-makers have wrought is mostly silly, useless and time-wasting and the kazillion users of these widgets are pretty much just acting like little children.

I never thought I would call the often frivolous AOL back in the day–very simply, a Neanderthal version of Facebook–a mature offering in comparison.

While I will admit when I am not chewing nails that a lot of these apps are somewhat fun, I can’t help but ask myself that lyric from the old Peggy Lee classic: “Is that all there is?”

And if that is all there is, can Facebook really build a viable and long-lasting business on what is essentially a bunch of games that will ultimately become wearying for users? Doesn’t it need more robust apps that actually are useful and relevant and make Facebook the service that Zuckerberg has often told me was a “utility”?

While Facebook–with a cleaner and more strict look and a better navigation–is surely less goofy than rival MySpace for anyone over 12 years old, and its video, photo and email features are nice, the vast majority of its apps are still mostly as dumb as a box of hammers.

Maybe they will attract scads of ads and maybe not, but first consider the top apps on Facebook right now.

Slide’s No. 1 Top Friends, which has 2.94 million daily active users, lets you “add a box of up to 32 of your BFFs to your profile.”

Wheeeee! Paris Hilton forever!

Not to pick on them particularly, as I think they are great developers (see my post on Slide here), but Slide’s FunWall (2.2 million) lets you add lots of bells and whistles to what is essentially graffiti-writing.

And its SuperPoke (1.16 million) is just plain rude when it notes, “Why just poke when you can pinch, hug, tickle, pwn [sic] or even throw sheep?”

Sheep? SuperPoking? I’d be getting queasy if I were a Procter & Gamble media buyer right about now!

iLike (694,000), with its music recommendations and sharing, is all well and good, but also light.

And X Me from Rock You (673,000)? “Tired of just poking? X Me opens up a whole new world of action-based communication, for example, ‘Hug Her, Slap Him, Tickle Them!'”

Oh no, you didn’t.

What else? Vampires. Werewolves. Naughty Gifts. An Honesty Box where you can say gross things in messages anonymously.

And my rececent favorite, which grew 4,107% the other day, called Pop Ur Zit!


To give you the entire feel for it, I am printing their whole reason for being below (plus this lovely cartoon above):

Another usual day…. With half-closed eyes, you are headed to the bathroom…OH MY GOD!!! It’s the Zits!!!

“Pop your zits at your friends and gross them out!! But you can also rescue (soothe) them with your favorite products. It will cool them down, relieving their stress as well as changing their biorhythm.

“See what happens every 10 hours and see what you can do by popping your friend’s zits. Zitometers will sync with your actions and time. Be aware of alerts on zitometer. Your friend’s soothing is the only way you can get rid of your zits on your face.

“You will get rewarded for being a kind soother. Your rank will go up as you soothe more people and you will get different coupons to use on hundreds of shopping malls.”

Is it just me?

No, thankfully. Wired Editor and “The Long Tail” author (who should know about this stuff) Chris Anderson wrote about the Facebook apps market in a post, which was actually a reaction to another analysis report by Tim O’Reilly.

By way of background, Anderson noted that O’Reilly’s report showed that Facebook apps were “top-heavy, with the top 84 apps of the 5,000 analyzed having 87% of the traffic,” before moving on to the obvious conclusion of why this was so:

1. The social networking on Facebook is too powerful. This is the tyranny of network effects, where viral success is the only kind and popularity snowballs into an avalanche or goes nowhere at all. That sort of herd behavior is usually a sign of an immature market.
2. Most apps are total crap. That, in turn, may say something about the whole idea of Facebook as a platform. But I’ll leave that discussion for another day.”

So, let’s discuss. And no potato-throwing, please.

Next chapter: Why I don’t really want to SuperPoke, say, Digg’s Jay Adelson, on our 2,500-person strong D: All Things Digital group on Facebook? But what else is there to do?

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work