Facebook widgets: mini-bubbles in a bubble?

Sometimes it feels like there never is a single day without news about Facebook. Today, the New York Times published an article about „investing in a theory“ – the fact that there is a hype about participating on Facebook, programming widgets, earning revenues in any way possible. But nobody really found out how just yet:

Now it appears that such exuberance has infused the expanding Facebook universe, even though no one has yet proved it is possible to build a profitable business with sustainable revenues on the site. Some developers report earning tens of thousands of dollars in advertising with the applications they have created. Yet their applications are mostly running ads promoting other Facebook applications — a situation that recalls the earliest Gold Rush miners, who earned a living selling shovels to other miners. And developers must cover the cost of hosting the applications on their own Web servers.

Nevertheless, people are as optimistic about this as they were about the whole industry some 7 years ago.

This summer, Lee Lorenzen, a venture capitalist in Monterey, Calif., who describes himself as “the first Facebook-only V.C.,” started a $25 million Facebook investment fund and introduced a Web tool, at Adanomics.com, that assigns a monetary value to Facebook applications.

And here is a quick facts summary taken from adanomics:

  • There are 348,289,583 installs across 5,160 apps on Facebook.
  • These applications were used 25,756,704 times in the last 24 hours and have a combined valuation of $286,885,848.
  • Facebook has approximately 40 million Unique Active Users in the past 30 days and a valuation between $10Bn and $15Bn.
  • This translates to between $250 and $375 per active user.

… a combined valuation of $285 million! $250 valuation per user! Hard to believe, but that seems to be the reason why Microsoft decided to invest in Facebook. (A small amount that will dent their annual report like a rounding error.) So is this a real deal, or is it a hype?

The optimism of some of the widgets programming marketeers are so optimistic, that it makes me sceptical.

„We have the potential opportunity to create the new MTV,” (iLike)

Mr. Lorenzen values popular Facebook applications like Where I’ve Been (lets users show which countries and states they have visited), Texas Hold ’Em Poker and What’s Your Stripper Name (suggests what you and your friends would call yourselves on stage) at around $2 million each.

Most hope to either attract Facebook-users to their website and offers, some might publish ads on their widget canvas. But will that really be enough to sustain these valuations?

On a side note: If advertising is the model for generating any revenue, Facebook might actually perform much worse than other sites, because people are so familiar and engaged with the existing contents/widgets, that ad banner blindness will be much more common amongst these users than visitors of other media sites. That’s at least what some people say, and I think that is a reasonable assumption.

However, it could also imply that any click on a banner on Facebook is probably much more valuable than clicks on other networks. Simply because it wasn’t an accident or pure boredom. The user is actually interested in whatever the banner offered.

Soon enough, apparently, Facebook will start targetting ads using information they take from the profiles (makes sense, doesn’t it?), so ads should also become much more relevant.

The whole phenomenon of Facebook widgets definitely needs to be watched carefully, and I don’t think it would hurt for companies to test the water publishing small widgets and measuring the effects. But I am still sceptical about this exuberant optimism. Prove me wrong, I would be very much delighted to report on successful tactics any time!



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