It has taken Facebook more than a year to pick the 25 winners of its FBFund grants competition, who have received $25,000 prizes. And now those 25 can try for $250,000 more, according to Facebook's FAQ: "The top 25 applications [in round I] will receive $25k grant. After Round I the top 25 may resubmit to apply for one of five $250k grants awarded in Round II." So if you win both grants, you get $275K, right? Wrong!By Facebook's math, one $25,000 grant + one $250,000 grant = a total of $250,000. In announcing the Round I winners, Facebook's Catherine Lee pulled a $225,000 figure out of thin air: "Once round two closes in December, we will announce our five finalists, each of which will receive up to an additional $225,000 in funding." I'm sure Facebook flack Elliot Schrage has some highly entertaining explanation for this which he will deliver straightfaced to other reporters, who will then call us and howl with laughter. For now, we're content to just blame Sheryl Sandberg.
BarTab. Thankster. Daikon. Pongr. Newsbrane. Faithfeed. Koofers. Say the names of the apps which won Facebook's application-writing contest out loud, and you instantly understand what a joke the process must have been. What's really funny is how long it took Facebook's grants committee to arrive at this list of 25 winners, who will receive a second round of $25,000 grants from Facebook's FBFund and "mentoring" from Facebook employees. (Sadly, no therapy is included.)Facebook had first promised an announcement for September 22, then October 10. The results finally came today — only after Valleywag pointed out the ongoing delay. Facebook is now spinning the "amazing diversity" of its winners. Translation: They gave up and picked them at random. A suggestion to Facebook's grant-granters: If no one deserves a prize, it's totally okay not to give one.
Silicon Valley's bubble in Facebook-apps startup has been our own local version of the crisis in toxic mortgage securities. With venture capitalists growing leary of the concept, developers have been eagerly awaiting the outcome of Facebook's FBFund, a grants program for applications startups. Results were promised on September 22, then again last Friday; Facebook still hasn't made a decision on the lucky winners. Why? Because Facebook's applications platform has become, like everything else in the company, a scene of rabidly intense politicking.Here's an update for anyone who didn't get the memo: Facebook's applications "platform," a set of software tools for embedding timewasting entertainments within the social network's pages, is not a level playing field. Some applications are more equal than others. That's only become clearer since Facebook foolishly put Facebook's platform in the hands of its top flack, Washington-trained bloviator Elliot Schrage. Facebook's Great Apps program, meant to designate higher-quality applications, has become a shameful excuse for nepotism. Awarding money on the merits is hard enough. When you mix in the need to help out your COO's brother-in-law's pet startup, or your ex-president's latest venture, it complicates matters. Is Facebook going to come out with a list of apps to fund that it's truly proud of? Or will this look more like an appropriations bill after it's made its way through Congress, larded with earmarks?
The founders of Tap Tap Tap, a developer of iPhone applications, have parted ways, and are putting their most successful app, Where To, up for sale. John Casasanta says he and Sophia Teuschler delayed the announcement for weeks because they had difficulty coming to terms for the split. Commentards are already lauding the pair's transparency, but the move doesn't speak well for their business sense. If you were selling a home, would you tell people at an open house that the sellers were divorcing? Just what a buyer wants: a negotiation with two parties who can't agree on anything themselves.
After Apple banned iPhone app Podcaster from its iTunes App Store, CNET called Podcaster the iPhone app that's "so good, Apple won't let you have it." Apple hasn't said why, but it's widely believed that the app was banned for competing with the iPhone's built-in podcast-downloading software. But blogger Niall Kennedy writes that he tested the Podcaster app according to Apple's stated rules, and discovered three reasons Apple might have legitimately rejected Alex Sokirynsky's app.Kennedy said Podcaster takes as long as 3 to 5 minutes to load some menus, that he had to dismiss a confirmation sheet each time he added a new podcast, and that Podcaster's interface is crowded and ugly. Remember, ugly is an unforgivable sin in the eyes of Apple, which warns developers on its Developer Connection site:
A tweak to Facebook's new site redesign, which goes permanent today, removed a link to "recently used applications" from the site's applications drop-down menu. Its got the third-part developers who make those applications up in arms because they say removing the link will make it harder for users to come back to their widgets. One developer wrote us to say "if this sticks today marks the end for 3rd party applications." The "Developer Feedback to Facebook" forum is full of similar complaints. "I already have users complain that they can't find apps again on the new profile after first using them. the latest changes will make it even harder," writes on developer. Another: "Yup, this is a very intense change. And pretty useless from a user experience point of view. Hopefully they roll it back immediately or it was just a mistake."
Something we bet Steve Jobs won't be discussing on stage at this morning's iPod event: The third-party developers who create apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch say Apple takes a week or more to approve updates — even bug fixes. Apple also doesn't communicate with the developers to tell them why or how long their updates will be delayed. Fraser Speiers, who developed the Exposure Flickr application for the iPhone, told Macworld:
Apple's not the only Valley company planning a big event next week. Yahoo's Hack Day, a gathering for developers who want to plug their services into Yahoo's websites, will double as an unveiling of Yahoo's "open strategy." What is this strategy, exactly? An attempt to take on Google and Facebook by making it easier to tap into Yahoo's search index and user profiles. What will be announced? Nothing you haven't already heard about, we expect, but it's safe to predict you'll hear Yahoo executives begging people to build derivative search engines with its Boss service. It's a bit like Tom Sawyer asking other kids to paint the fence for him, except he forgot to bring paint. And a fence.
Victor Wang — huh-huh — from Apple emailed the author of the Pull My Finger app, shown above, to explain that the interactive fart-noise program was deemed "of limited utility to the broad user community." I wonder what would happen if they applied a "utility" standard to the music videos sold through the same store? Wang's full email:
AppleInsider spotted a job posting from Microsoft looking for a product manager. The gig: Bring to market a widget directory for Windows Mobile similar to the iTunes App Store for the iPhone, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs said earned $30 million in revenues during its first month in business.Microsoft called the store "Skymarket" in the now-removed job posting, an unfortunate name which reminds us of 2004 flop Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), and said the store will open sometime in 2009. There were few more details, mostly because it would be the new hire's responsibility to define "the product offering, pricing, business model and policies that will make the Windows Mobile marketplace 'the place to be' for developers wishing to distribute and monetize their Windows Mobile applications."
Don't call it an app store — it's an open content distribution system. Android Market will be Google's version of the iPhone App Store. A PR-speak description of the site emphasizes that posting apps for sale will be a lot like uploading videos to YouTube. But with iPhone app developers already posing as punk-rock heroes, how much more developer-friendly does Google really need to be?A screenshot from the not-yet-launched store seems designed to appeal to wonky coders, not the mass market of non-technical buyers Google will need to attract. My guess: Google will fall all over themselves insisting it's all about developers and Freedom, until the store is ready for launch. Then they'll shove ZeDev Tools and Murderdrome aside for Bingo and FlipBook. At least with a YouTube-like rating system, there's a chance of surprise hits that aren't chosen by app store curators with a canned idea of what a smartphone is for.
To hear iPhone-app developers tell it, VCs are circling and the end of days is nigh. Some developers can push out at an app in four months for less than $5,000, so why play with other people's money at all? "Fuck the VCs" says indie developer John Casasanta, of Tap Tap Tap. "What we’re about to experience in the iPhone world is going to be a bubble along the lines of the one in the late '90s/early 2000s." Echoing that is Mike Lee, cofounder of iPhone app development team Tapulous, who raised $1.8M in angel funding this summer. This week, Lee, one of Tapulous's nine employees, was told to exit his own company. Lee left a depressingly cocky send-off to his team in his wake. It's hardly the rallying cry to go it alone that he meant it to be.
DeveloperAnalytics, a research firm which analyzes Facebook applications, put out an appealing bit of linkbait this morning that purports to show how much money popular applications could earn each month. It calculates the metric based on "hundreds of real CPM, and CPA/Virtual Goods revenue data points collected directly from developers and partners." That's CPM as in "cost per thousand" — the traditional way ads are sold, based on the number of people they reach — and CPA as in "cost per action," which is usually based on linking payment for an ad to its generation of sales, signups, or other results. Virtual goods? Those are the cheesy little icons you can send your friends on Facebook. Yes, some people pay money for them.The list is topped by an widget called Mob Wars, which exhorts users to "Join the Mafia, and start your own mob. Band together with your friends to become the most powerful force in the elite criminal underworld of Facebook." DeveloperAnalytics says Mob Wars' users return to its page 60 times a day. Facebook's most popular application, Slide's FunWall, only shows up fifth on the list, because users load its pages just two or three times a day. Here's what DeveloperAnalytics didn't account for in running the numbers: Slide's opening an office in New York to sell its inventory to major brands, while Mob Wars ads ask if you want to take an IQ challenge.
A year and some after the Facebook platform's launch, few of its widgetmakers have made any real money — unless you count the venture capital they've raised. Just a month after the iPhone 3G launch, Apple CEO Steve Jobs says that $30 million has already changed hands through the iTunes App Store. Even the guy behind the do-nothing "I Am Rich" application made a few thousand bucks. So you, wantrepreneur Web developer, you're thinking: Gee, I made, like, four-and-a-half Facebook Zombie widgets this past year. Maybe I should cook myself up an iPhone app. But hold on there, Steve Jobs Jr. Do you really know what you're getting yourself into?According to Iminlikewithyou's Charles Forman, who's working on porting his startup's copycat games to the iPhone, there's not much in common between the platforms besides the word "app."
Google's mobile OS Android might have a future in "set-top boxes for televisions, mp3 players and other communication and media devices and services," reports VentureBeat. Silicon Alley Insider confirms the story — or at least the fact that Google's working on Android-loaded cable boxes — and wonders if maybe Google will move them as a part of its partnership with Clearwire. None of this will happen anytime soon, of course.The first Android-loaded phone — the HTC dream, to run on the T-Mobile network — isn't due out until October. It's not certain that when that device does come out that Android will be much to look at. Ever since Google released its last software developement kit only to the first 50 winners of its Android Developer Challenge, the jealous rest of the third-party developers building apps for the OS continue to trash the system's prospects in the press.
Turns out you don't need $999.99 to get the "I Am Rich" app for your iPhone after all. Gone from Apple's iTunes App Store, it's available free on Cracked Apps, blog linking to pirated, generic versions of Armin Heinrich's useless widget and other less useless apps too. Haklabs just put Hakstore, which does much the same thing. "As a developer myself," an angry tipster tells us, "I feel outraged and I think media should write about this to force Apple take some legal action." Seems that Apple already has, but as with the music and film industries, policing the piracy won't do much good. "Assholes," taunts the person behind CrackedApps, "Someone reported everyone of my links. Give it a few and I will update all the links :)"
Facebook announced it will pay out $2 million to winners of its second fbFund developers' competition. 25 first-round winners will get $25,000 each, and five second-round winners will win $250,000. The money comes as a grant, not an investment, with the only stipulation being that Facebook backers Accel and Peter Thiel's Founders Fund get the right of first refusal for any investment rounds in the future.Last fall, Microsoft paid $240 million for 1.6 percent of Facebook, along with an advertising deal. That wasn't because it was a popular social network, but because the tech press was talking up Facebook as a platform for social applications — a Windows for widgets. Facebook's platform has fallen far short of that promise. The successful apps widgetmakers created in the first year of the platform's existence succeeded through spammy viral tactics, not by being particularly useful or fun for Facebook users. Social-games maker Zynga, for example, makes its games easier to win for users who invite their friends to play. Facebook began changing its platform rules to discourage such tactics in January. This summer, it brought out the stick, suspending popular applications like Top Friends for violations. Now comes the carrot, in the form of the fbFund. To taste Facebook's cash, developers must meet a specific set of criteria from Facebook. We've translated them from PR-speak below. Facebook's criteria: