Eight weeks ago, Facebook took their boldest step yet: they went live with the Facebook Platform, giving unprecedented access to developers. On May 24 Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg declared to techies worldwide, "We want you to be able to build a business and make money with your applications. That's all your revenue."
This would usher in a whole new, vastly more functional Facebook. To developers it was a modern-age gold rush. With the promise of immediate access to all Facebook users and a free viral component to push it out there, developers around the globe scrambled to be the first. And sure enough, in the first few weeks we saw over 40,000 developers strut their stuff. Users loved it. 20 million Facebook users were like 20 million kids in 20 million toy stores. Everything was free, new, and exciting. Why just poke when you can Superpoke? Why just write when you can draw graffiti on a friend's wall? And who doesn't love a good food fight on their screen?
Unfortunately that's pretty much been the extent of it. Eight weeks later there are now 30 million of us on Facebook and we have 1900 applications to choose from. Problem is, almost half of them are in the "just for fun" category and the fun is fading. Most of those free toys we picked up are collecting dust or getting deleted. The popularity contest was won by the early movers. The top 33 apps today capture 80% of the 98 million downloads; the rest are struggling to be found.
Yes, Facebook has evolved into a gangly teenager on the brink of adulthood. Our home pages are a bit awkward and unfocused and the entire site, despite enormous and obvious potential, is still just a great social tool. Where are the killer apps? Who won the gold rush? Where's the money? Outlier stories like iLike aside, there isn't any. Try charging for any of this and you'll face a wall of outrage. I saw it directed at Danny Tran, the Bobbleheads application developer, when he innocently asked his community of friendly users "just out of curiosity, how much if anything would you pay to have a bobblehead made of you?" The responses are hilarious (if you think anger is funny, that is).
But in the world of Web 2.0, a complete lack of money-making potential isn't enough to deter legions of developers. So what's taking so long? Eight weeks is a long time. Broken bones heal in 8 weeks. Puppies grow up and leave their litters. In Hollywood that's enough time for a full stint in rehab.
This is a shout-out to all developers: help bring Facebook into adulthood. Come out with something that makes what we do easier or faster, like Blackberry's map application. Fun doesn't matter. Productivity does. As spoiled users we won't pay for it but if millions of us use it then you've got a great line item on your resume. And that's gotta be worth something.
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