Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blog has moved

Jambool blog is now on the Jambool.com domain. Please update your readers... You can track Jambool at http://blog.jambool.com/.

Look forward to seeing you there. There's a recent post there with out slides from the Facebook developer meetup a few days back.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where do you ski?

We just released our latest application on Facebook: Ski and Snowboard.

Over the last couple of months, we've had to scale quickly to handle the growth of our applications. This has kept us from getting this app released until now, but it is finally out and has been live on Facebook for a few days now.

This app, at the simples level, lets you tell your friends what your level on the slopes is, and have your friends confirm it. You can browse nearly 1200 ski resorts around the world and mark the ones you've been to. For every badge you mark visited, you get a snazzy looking logo of the resort on your profile -- very much like how we collect those ski passes on our jackets through the season!

The app also lets you collect set of ski resorts that you want snow reports for and see them all on one page. This makes it so much easier to decide where to go skiing this weekend! Trip planning and sharing is also built into the application, and each trip gets its own place to share pictures, wall comments -- and you can always see the ski report for that resort on teh trip page itself!

Where do you ski?

Storm gathering in Facebook Application world

There has been significant rise in the Facebook user community against applications that "force" users to invite 20 of their friends before they get to use the application at all. Users regard this as highly negative and spammy -- at least some users do. Users have formed groups, and are in the process of signing petitions. The most active group on this topic has 64K members, and there are several related, smaller groups as well (e.g., this one, and another one that lists the dirty apps). The petition is making the rounds, and if things catch on, Facebook might take action on this front.

It's been blogged a bit: on allfacebook for example, and Alec Saunders.

The developer forums have been active on this topic. Most developers participating on the forum seem to prefer the world without forced invites. A poll that showed up on the forums seems to show 50% of users do install these apps and send out invites ("depending on the app"). That statistic might itself make more app developers to resort to this tactic.

The reason the app developers are resorting to this is that they are finding it increasingly hard to tap into the viral growth. Facebook's recent changes to limit the news feed publishes and similar earlier changes have stunted the virality of apps. This affects new apps much more than existing, already successful apps. This begs the question -- where are the facebook applications headed?

In his blog, Alec Saunders writes that all the top applications have lost their active user base somewhat in the last couple of months. Even so, the number of users of Facebook are growing. Our internal numbers show that the applications were slowing down in December, but growth has been huge in January -- but this is also a result of new features and changes we have introduced in our applications. Given the increasing set of users on Facebook itself, I would expect that even the apps who are losing an audience everyday are adding new users too. I've also started seeing posts decrying the "newbies" on facebook who go nuts over all the applications and go about sending invites to everyone around them.

Are facebook applications peaking? Though it is early to tell, I think not yet. But I do think I'd expect people to start engaging themselves in more interesting applications than just Ninjas and Vampires, but making these applications succeed on Facebook is challenging.

But I do think that the applications that have found success on Facebook already are well placed. Facebook applications are a great way to explore ideas and see what clicks with users. And new applications will probably have to pay their way to success.
Or resort to the tactics like the forced invites above.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A year in review

In brief, we went from 0 users to 1.5MM users in 2007 (already beyond 2M in 2008).

We launched our Jambool.com beta site one June 1, our first app on Facebook on Sep 17, our second app on Oct 1, and our 15th app in mid December.

We went from 1 server box in production to 3 boxes at the end of the year (and it's already up to 5 in 2008 now).

Our daily active users on Facebook applications at the end of 2007 counted at 100K (and already up to 150K in 2008).

We hit our first advertising revenue in December.

It has been a fabulous year -- but not without its challenges and learnings.

Happy New Year to all, and hope the best for 2008 for you!

Friday, January 04, 2008

We think we know scale...

And then one fine day, we are left scrambling to pick up the pieces as things start to crumble.

We've always believed that "scale" and "scalability" are different things. Scalability comes from design, and scale is largely implementation. Over the last few days, it's the latter that we had to think through again. Luckily for us, we've done decently well with the first part.

It's business back to normal. Check out our Facebook page, be a fan, and use the apps!

Happy new year and all the best to everyone for a great new 2008.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In the Seattle Tech Startups list

Got mentioned in the Seattle Times blog recently.. Here's the link: Marcelo's startup index refreshed.

The article refers to the list of Seattle Tech Startups that refreshes monthly, and show the websites indexed by their Alexa and Compete rankings. Jambool was the one of the highest climbers in the list, moving to #91.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Facebook apps -- Where to from here?

Lots of people have blogged and written about Facebook apps. Some are Facebook-lovers, and some bash it to no end. The camps are clearly divided.

I want to venture out and predict that the brouhaha about facebook apps is going to dwindle down soon. The same excitement may or may not carry over to other social platforms -- my guess is that the excitement level will be lower and shorter-lived. I also think that the applications on facebook will eventually be just about mindshare -- and in order to build their fortresses, the bigger players will buy out the smaller players. A lot of apps on Facebook run into scaling problems -- I've run into several that are now unavailable or are on hold because of scaling problems. Several other developers have made their apps available for sale on the developer forum. The reasons most often cited is a variant of "I don't have time to support it."

Eventually, there will be consolidation of apps into a few strong players. The winners have pretty much already appeared -- Social media, Rock you, Slide. The application space on Facebook will be essentially an ad network -- which is indeed all successful apps are focusing on.

There will still be a large bunch of apps that will run on their own. But these will be those that don't rely on Facebook audience to click on ads to survive -- either they are an offshoot of a larger non-facebook product, or they have have an inbuilt business model that helps it survive.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Measure, Fine tune, and then measure some more

Ad Tracker is a wonderful tool.

In my last post, I mentioned how we are learning about paid distribution on Facebook, and some early thoughts based on our experience. To summarize from the last post, you need a way to track installs from ad clicks -- whether an in house script, Ad Tracker, or some other mechanism -- and you need to understand how much you are really paying for getting users on Facebook.

In this post I want to talk a bit about the fine tuning process to optimize the install conversion rate.

Some background is probably in order. Feel free to skip over this paragraph if this reads like rudimentary stuff for you. A user becoming active on your app is the last step in a long series of steps -- or rather, better worded as a the drops coming out of a funnel. Lots of people online have talked about this funnel -- and a recent post by Dave Mcclure describes it as AARRR (Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revnue). I'd like to add one more "A" before that -- Awareness. The hard value of this might be nearly zero, but it does contribute in helping improve Acquisition. What I mean is this: where Acquisition is about clickthroughs to your page, Awareness is about people knowing about you without even ever visiting your site. Putting it back in context -- in order for you to get 1 active user, you need to have a multiple users install your app, and a multiple of that come to the install page. This is the funnel you need, and the wider the mouth of the funnel, more the active user growth. Without any fine tuning, you need to have a certain number of ad clicks (assuming that's the only way you get growth for now) and therefore a certain amount to spend on advertising. The next thing to do is -- optimize the funnel. And the first step for that is measurement. As I said earlier, you need to measure conversion to installs -- and even further measure conversion to active users whenever possible.

Now that's out of the way, here's how we are somewhat fine tuning our conversion rates. At the time of our last post, our conversion rate from ad clicks to installs was hovering around 25%. Currently, for the same apps, it hovers around 40%. This means where earlier on each new install was costing us 60c approximatelyt, it now costs us 38c (assuming 15c CPC).

One of the first things we played with, obviously, was the creative. We tested several different creatives and constantly measure conversion rates, and we stuck with those that gave us higher conversion rates. We played with ad traffic through different times in the day. We put in small amounts of money into our daily budget through the day to control the ad clicks, and again measured. Did I say Ad Tracker is a wonderful tool? We found that for our app Shared Memories the times we got the best conversion rates was late evenings and weekends. Afternoons was worst.

And remember -- we were not looking for a high click through rate. We were solely looking for conversion rate. In fact lower CTR was somewhat better. Why? Awareness. A lower CTR for me meant that more people looked at the ad for Shared Memories. In non Facebook advertising, this may not be that relevant -- because you the advertiser control all of your landing page. But in case of Facebook, the landing page is a very vanilla Add Application page that is no different than any other app (in our case so far). So the best place we had to sell the user on our app was in the creative itself. And with a lower CTR but higher conversion, we were getting more people knowing about our app, and we were paying less per install. This awareness is useful -- it plants a seed in the user's mind that might bring them back to us later. It's all about conversion, my friend.

Eventually, we are building a set of applications that can help us reach out into a larger user base, and use that to advertise our existing apps. Some people question the value of game apps -- but I believe these apps are crucial to help drive traffic and lower advertising costs. They help spread Awareness -- and it goes some ways in helping increase your conversion rates from ad clicks. And if extremely popular, they can be instrumental in opening up the funnel mouth for your other apps.

We recently launched Balloonz!. Balloonz is a simple, fun game that lets you fill yucky things in balloons and thrown them at friends. Friends can dodge balloons by passing them on to someone else -- with a catch that balloons will explode in some time and you have to pass them on within that time. Users can even create their own fillings for Balloonz. Real simple. And in 5 days that this app has been of Facebook, we've grown to about 3K user installs today. Again our measuring ability and learnings with other apps helped -- our conversion rate has been close to 55% for this app.

As an end note, we will be at Community Next this week. We'd love to exchange ideas and thoughts on Facebook apps. Email me at vikas at jambool in case you are there and might be interested in chatting. I will be very interested in learning from you.