Get the newsletter · 2018 essays (PDF) · Featured · Recent

For-profit app developers versus For-attention app developers

Max Levchin recently launched his blog – which I’m sure will be excellent – with an article called, "How to successfully launch a social networking development platform." It’s absolutely worth reading, so go click here and read it.

If you’re lazy, here’s the quick summary:

  1. Create a feeling of technological openness.
  2. Treat developers equally, but leverage the best ones by letting them closer in.
  3. Plan and manage a community, and introduce a community manager early
  4. Shift the support/documentation load onto the early developers.
  5. Respond very quickly to platform issues, and take the early scaling problems seriously.
  6. Emphasize the money-making nature of the platform.
  7. Make your campus a place that developers very much want to visit.
  8. Pre- and over-communicate policy changes and make major changes with at least the perception of open debate.
  9. Make the #1 measurable goal of your PR team the amount of coverage that successful (or just interesting) developers get.
  10. Hold frequent developer events and invite leading developers to speak at those.

Looking at this list, it strikes me that there are really two different types of developers, the for-profit type and the for-attention type. Different tools (listed above) appeal to the different groups.

For-profit developers
These days, there are many companies in the Bay Area that are building app companies, completely without destination sites. Many of these have gotten angel funding – I personally know of at least a dozen and a half. And a few have even gotten venture funding.

For these companies, particularly the ones with venture funding, there are significant issues to overcome:

  • How do you generate significant revenues? ($50MM+/year)
  • Is Facebook ultimately friend or foe?
  • How can I beat my other for-profit competitors?
  • Does more PR in this space generate higher valuations or advertiser interest for me?
  • etc.

So as an archetype, you can think of these teams as highly experienced serial entrepreneurs with lots of money, offices in SF, staff of dozens, millions of app installs, etc. Kinda like Max ;-)

Thus, the list that Max writes include some of these issues – openness to make dependent companies feel good, money-making nature to appeal to revenues, etc.

For-attention developers

But compare this to the other group, who are the for-attention developers – or as you might call them, enthusiasts. These folks have vastly different concerns:

  • Do people like my app?
  • Am I meeting interesting people via my app?
  • Do I have enough money to pay the server bills?
  • etc.

This group is interesting because I think they are the ones actually hanging out on the Facebook Developer Forums ;-)

I was also able to meet a bunch of them at the recent CommunityNext conference on platforms, where we had dozens of Facebook teams present. They seem to be very small teams – like 1 or 2 – who end up working on a cool Facebook project because they think it’s interesting. In these cases, they’re almost as interested in the technology as an art, rather than being successful. Thus, the process of app creation is almost as fulfilling as being successful itself – that’s why I’m finding many hackers trying out new apps all the time.

For this group, I’d argue that fame/status/respect are more important than money. While it’s fun to think they can make a buck, the more important part is that they have X million users using their Pokewallgift application, and it makes them feel good. Building a $50MM revenue stream or the strategic implications of Facebook’s moves are less important than to the folks who are really trying to build businesses.

Viral channels and scoreboards?
One thing I found curiously missing from Max’s list was viral channels – obviously it’s very easy to build social websites without easy ways for apps to spread themselves. In fact, the OpenSocial spec has a newsfeed, but no invitation and messaging system, both of which can be critical for growth. After all, what’s the point of building on someone else’s platform if you don’t also have access to their audience for growth?

Also, as I’ve commented to friend before, being able to generate a "score" of millions of users is critical, even if those millions of users don’t actually equate to huge revenue. IMHO, one of the biggest mistakes MySpace has made in this has been not publishing a scoreboard with how many millions of users have whatever layout site, music widget, virtual pet, slideshow, etc. I know for a fact there are internet companies with millions of widgets on MySpace, but the press can’t report on them, and people don’t talk about them.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.