Facebook apps are revealing their potential

Sorry about my absence over the weekend. I was here all along. In fact, I was here more than usual. It was one of the least busy weekends I’ve had in a while. But I somehow misplaced my blogging mojo and I was distracted by other things.

Other things like my latest internet addiction, Scrabulous! Jeremy Bentham thought that humans wanted to maximise pleasure rather than pain. Goodness knows what he would have thought if he saw me inviting Facebook friends to play Scrabble against me.

It has mostly been a demoralising affair. I hadn’t realised quite how rusty I was at Scrabble. I knew it was bad when I changed my target in my games to staying within 100 points of my opponent. Apologies to everyone who has had to put up with my awful Scrabble standards.

Still, I did win one game. I got off to a good start with ‘zealot’ early on, but I fell behind. Just when it was looking beyond hope, I redeemed myself with — of all words — ‘pies’. I always knew they were good for you really.

It’s incredible to think about the popularity of the Scrabulous Facebook application. I would never have heard of Scrabulous if it wasn’t for Facebook even though Scrabulous must have been in existence for a while.

This is part of the genius of Facebook Applications. They realised that there is added utility in combining other websites with Facebook. For instance, with the Last.fm Facebook apps I can see the music that all of my friends are listening to — people who I didn’t necessarily know had a Last.fm profile. With Scrabulous I can instantly play games of Scrabble with my friends without having to sign up or track down my friends.

All this has got me thinking about Facebook Applications again. When they were launched at the beginning of the summer, it felt as though there could be two or three really good uses for it, but that it could lead to the kind of overload that makes MySpace unbearable.

Now my profile has 14 apps on it (not including the ones made by Facebook themselves) and rising. Some are trivial. Others are distracting. The best are nigh-on revolutionary.

Perhaps with the latter group of applications in mind, Facebook themselves appear to have taken a bit of a step back. One annoying move they have recently made has been to call their excellent Courses feature an application and promptly remove it. I still don’t understand the justification for it.

For students like myself (who, after all, Facebook was originally designed for), the courses feature was not a mere add-on service. It was practically integral to the website as it allowed you to easily find your classmates.

Now it has been ripped out and replaced with at least two different applications (and probably more in the future). And because different people will be using different applications (or none at all), now you won’t be able to find your classmates so easily. Not the smartest move by Facebook if you ask me.

I wonder quite why Facebook felt the need to pull out. Maybe they are feeling the heat of the spotlight a bit too much. It’s not good to be the top dog. Ask McDonald’s, CocaCola, Microsoft or (now) Google. These companies all receive exponentially more flack than whoever is on the next rung down. Facebook is dangerously close to being among them.

By passing on responsibility for so much of its functionality to third parties, at least Facebook can now attempt to divert the attention elsewhere. If somebody launches into some kind of tirade about privacy and the courses feature, Facebook can now say, “Don’t look at us — it was [third party application developer].”

Perhaps there are less sinister reasons for Facebook’s change in tack though. A new application is causing a bit of a buzz and it is putting Facebook itself to shame (via Martin Stabe).

I have written in the past about how Facebook’s geographical networks are woefully inadequate. Basically, they have plucked some major cities from the atlas and decided that that will do. There are only 17 geographical networks for the UK, and they are almost all major cities.

If you are in Scotland you have to choose from Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Tough luck if you live in the Western Isles or even Fife, a peninsula wedged in between two of the aforementioned cities.

The rather excellent looking Neighborhoods app cuts out all of this nonsense. It makes these geographical networks for you. I added the app and it created a Kirkcaldy network for me, just like that! It has its own network-style page.

Of course, the problem with this is that the network is extremely small compared to, for instance, the Edinburgh one. In fact, I am the only member. But perhaps the tight-knit nature of these networks will work to its advantage. If the Neighborhoods app takes off (as it apparently has in Seattle), it could prove to be just the ticket. A simple solution to an old problem that Facebook themselves didn’t have a solution for.

It feels like a good time for me to review some of my favourite Facebook apps. But that will come tomorrow.


  1. In a moment of weakness I signed up for Facebook at the weekend to see what the fuss was about.

    I must admit to being extremely underwhelmed by the whole thing! The only redeeming feature was Scrabulous, but even that wasn’t worth hanging about there for so I’ve since deactivated my account.

    I guess I’ll never see the point in catching up with people who you have lost contact with over the years (probably for good reason!), and any current friends are contactable in so many other ways. Given the huge uptake in FB subscriptions, it may be that I am alone in feeling this though!

    Too many applications are making FB in danger of becoming like MySpace with incredibly cluttered profiles becoming the norm, some of them are useful but a lot are just tacky and a waste of time really in my opinion.

  2. Sorry, I made you 3 points away from your target. But if you want to try and hit your target on a second game just start a new one!

  3. I loved Facebook when it first started, but the new update has me confused. Wish they would revert to the old one. Have to admit I just started playing Scamble and suck at it,lol. Hooked on “Fish Wrangler”.

    Stop by my blog and post your favorite app or comment on one already posted. Thanks.