I intended to use this blog post to say more about what we’re doing at Notice Technologies — especially considering the fact that we are now days before asking a few select friends to kick the tires on the Beta of our first app.

However, it is a little premature since I haven’t yet explained what we see in Facebook and how we see things evolving over the next year or two.  Some of you may have caught my 2008 predictions a few weeks back, but that seems so long ago since back then I was still employed by "The Man" and a whole 6 weeks have passed.  I assure you though that, for me at least, mid-February seems like ancient history.

So here goes.

Facebook has experienced meteoric growth since its launch in early 2004.  I guess you’d have to have meteoric growth to go from 0 to 69m users in 4 years.  :-)  The first users were primarily on college campuses, especially in the Northeast.  But the early adopters started careers, and then they began telling people about it at watercoolers in their office’s break rooms and over beer, sushi, etc.  Next thing you know, Facebook crossed the chasm from student social network to young professional social network… say sometime around late 2006/early 2007.   It was a really clever strategy or accident — you decide.  But now we’re at the point where I think the young professional market (< 25 years old) is getting saturated, and Facebook will need to grow in older demographics to continue to thrive.  It’s already happening to some degree — I certainly see a lot of friends say 30-35 joining, and keep in mind that Facebook’s fastest growing demographic now is 35-44.  Expect this trend to continue.  That’s where we are in early 2008.

Now let’s switch over to the apps side of Facebook.  In the Spring of 2007 (or perhaps earlier), Facebook realized that they could not evolve Facebook into a scalable and reliable platform *and* build product teams that could bring forth the next wave of social network innovation.  And phenomena such as open source, wikis, and crowdsourcing have proved time and time again that entrepreneurship and the creative force of mankind are stronger than any "closed" innovation strategy.  They probably also realized that with "openness" you get the side benefits of buzz, users, attention, mindshare, etc.  So Facebook did the right thing and created a developer API for the entrepreneurial community.  They did this in May 2007 at a point when Facebook had approximately 20-25m users.

Either or most likely both of the things I’ve just mentioned helped propel Facebook’s tremendous growth in the 2nd half of 2007 — as the social network went from 20m users to 60m+ in just seven months.  It was a phenomenal amount of growth in a short period of time.

So beginning in May/June 2007, entrepreneurial developers focused their attention on solving the needs of the masses of Facebook users.  I’d contend that the masses of Facebook users at that time were interested in entertainment and flirting (see Gifts and *especially* the Poke, my least favorite Facebook feature by a MILE.)  So we got "junk apps" like HugMe, You’re a Hottie, and Vampires (sorry Blake.)  But that is changing as the demographics shift.

That’s not to say there won’t be a place on Facebook for "junk apps."  Those applications will always have an audience, but it’s a small audience that the market is currently overvaluing.  Developers will
have an increasingly difficult time maintaining installation rates
& daily usage because those apps inherently don’t solve a lasting
and critical human need.  In fact, I think you’re starting to see the backlash against useless viral apps, and here, and here, and I could go on.

Our hypothesis is that we’re entering a new phase of next generation Facebook applications that will succeed because they will help people in ways that a lot of the first generation of apps couldn’t or wouldn’t.  I’m not talking about games, quizzes, personality tests, and shameful viral marketing.  Successful apps in the second wave will be those that social network users *must have* to solve real-life problems.

In short, Facebook apps *must* get useful and they must bridge the online and offline worlds.  And when apps get to this point, users will then welcome permission marketing (shoutout to Seth Godin.)

It’s clear to me that Facebook in 2008 is what the Web was in 1995 — a relatively young platform with a ton of potential, but dominated by first-generation sites/apps that simply will not solve people’s needs once the platform matures.  As it did with the Web, Facebook will mature over time.  As it does, the user base will mature as well, and the hundreds of millions on the platform will have better and more engaging experiences with the platform as apps map to their needs as busy, hard-working, and fun-loving people.