The success of Facebook is attributable to the strength of the third-party apps that connect to it. If you want proof, just track the number of requests you get for games like FarmVille. The problem is that the platform may be losing some of its developers as it tries to negotiate the shift to mobile devices.
Respected web marketing commentator, Andrew Chen, provides an interesting case study outlining the challenges developers face moving a popular web service into the mobile era. Some reasons Chen raises include a “lack of virility,” meaning that the site has turned off a lot of apps’ notification settings because they annoyed a lot of users, inflated ad rates and required constant retooling. Another problem is that many developers don’t find the information they collect from users all that useful. Active users “like” and “subscribe” all the time, but that just means more noise to sift through in the Open Graph data.
While it’s easy to fritter your time and money away on Facebook games, it’s not necessarily the same on mobile devices. Desktop browsers are designed for perusing sites casually, clicking from link to link, with games right there in your browser. Mobile devices, on the other hand, are easier to use when you want to check information quickly, such as the weather or what Yelp reviewers have said about a restaurant. Apps are also self-contained. Do you really want to fire up your Facebook app and connect to another app inside of it?
App stores like Apple’s and Google Play might appear more attractive because they can get users to pay for apps instead of just using a free website. If users pay for your app, they might feel more loyal to you than the Facebook platform.
These mobile app stores are also tightening the screws on what you can do as a developer. Google Play recently banned apps that update themselves outside of the Google Play store, ostensibly for security reasons. This could jeopardize other companies with their own ecosystems.
More companies might find greater success from an app store than with a social networking site. Although many apps are available for free, there are still plenty of paid games and programs. The “freemium” model is also very popular, where dedicated users can purchase extra features. Either way, you’ll have a steadier revenue stream going through an app store rather than depending on Facebook’s advertising. Perhaps that’s why both EA and Zynga, the company that made its name on Facebook with FarmVille and other games, are now distancing themselves from their former bread and butter.
In the end, it makes more sense for you to build your own self-contained app rather than rely on a third party. If Apple or Google move the goalposts, you’ll have an easier time dealing with it if you have your own app rather than depending on another social networking site. Even if there isn’t a mass exodus, it still makes sense for your app to be as self-contained as possible. However, connecting to Facebook isn’t a bad idea. I just wouldn’t pin the success of your app on it.