WSJ On Facebook App Ventures

Pretty interesting piece in today’s WSJ by Riva Richmond about successful and unsuccessful Facebook applications. At this point, Zuckerberg and Facebook are the kingpins of the campus entrepreneur space. While Gates, Brin, Dell, Smith, and others have far more money and reach, Zuck/Fbook are as hot as a pistol.

Its amazing how many other businesses have formed and are forming around Facebook. A ‘new’ industry or cluster in the way that the iPod opened incredible opportunity to other firms and to customers. Clusters are huge in economic growth theory (see Porter), but they are usually geographically (and industry) centered.

The facebook and ipod clusters center around a specific product/lifestyle. I will have to think about this a bit and whether and how these types of clusters — distributed clusters if you will — differ from more traditional clusters.

From the piece (which is worth reading and is full of great cases and stats) by Richmond:

In May 2007, Facebook Inc. invited software developers to create free software programs that members of the social-networking site could use to entertain and inform each other.

A year later, it’s time to ask: What has worked and what hasn’t?

There’s plenty to pick from. So far, more than 250,000 developers have requested the Palo Alto, Calif., company’s tools for building such applications. And more than 24,000 programs have been created, allowing Facebook users to send each other virtual hugs, share movie picks and play games, among other things.

For some of those developers, the applications have become viable businesses. Companies drawing large numbers of users to the Facebook Web pages associated with their applications are able to sell advertising or even goods or services there. For others, the applications are helping to raise their profile and user ranks of existing operations.

But many more have tried and failed, unable to gain or keep a following. Creating catchy applications is becoming more challenging as the number of applications vying for users’ attention grows and their sophistication increases. Meanwhile, some early tactics used to gain wide reach are being eliminated by Facebook because their intrusiveness drew complaints.

“Entrepreneurs need to ask themselves, ‘What is the problem I’m trying to solve? What is the need I’m trying to address?’ ” says Ben Ling, director of platform marketing at Facebook. “The Facebook platform is not a magic platform and you can plug in anything and it will be successful. It doesn’t make something that’s not useful useful.”

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