Friday, April 11, 2008

Silly Facebook apps are keeping my stomach full and a roof over my head

This is a long post, but lots of exciting things have happened since the last one!

The Facebook melody composing app I was making in August 2007 didn't take off. Perhaps it just wasn't a very good app for making melodies, or perhaps people just aren't creative enough for it to become viral. I abandoned it and carried on making other ones.

Boy, was that a good decision! It's been a jumble, so I can't even remember the proper chronological order of things, but I think the next app I made was "Your Japanese Name". I thought it would have a very limited appeal, but actually half a million people have installed it now! Wow. Also, it's now making enough money for me to pay my rent.

This got me thinking that perhaps other easy-to-use things that let people express their identity on their profile would do well also. Therefore I started adding to my list all kinds of other apps that fit that description. Some people are looking down on these apps and calling them "badge apps" with no real value, but I believe that ultimately it is the users who decide what is entertaining for them.

I made several. Lots failed. I think failure is good too, it's great to know what doesn't work and try to ponder why. I made one which comes up with a description of the past life of the user. Like it might say that you were a cave explorer in your past life, and that's why you are so adventurous now. Perhaps that was a bit too random, showing that off in your profile doesn't really tell anything about your identity. I'm happy that it failed, because it raised my belief in humanity a bit, that people won't accept just any crappy app :)

Just to make sure though, I had another app made which is similar, but it shows you what you will be reincarnated as in the future. That failed even harder. Strangely though later someone else made a past life app similar to mine, except it was a huge huge success. I believe it was because of the forced invite system though, and not because the app itself had some merit above mine. Well, the author got away with that and made a lot of money, so maybe I should have put such a system in place too.

There are about a dozen failed apps which I made. I'll describe more of those in other posts. Let's talk about one success for a change. It's called "Name Analyzer", and like "Your Japanese Name" it displays your name in your profile, but just in plain english, with some adjectives attached to explain what each letter in your name means. I can't claim it's an original idea, but it hadn't been done for Facebook yet. Basically it has the merits of "Your Japanese Name", but doesn't limit the userbase to only those with an interest in Japan.

It took off like a rocket and now has nearly 7 million installs, with a hundred thousand people using it every day. I wrote last year about my scalability and bandwidth worries, but now in retrospect that hasn't been an issue. I'm not paying significantly more for hosting now, and just one server has been enough to handle the load, and even that server has been mostly idle, even though the server logs are really flying.

Oh, I lost a lot of impressions though because the logs are REALLY flying, and I hadn't realized how large they would become! I had 8GB of space left, so I thought I would be OK. However, with 100k people each doing several page loads and causing longish lines to be appended to ever growing log files, I actually ran out of space. Many times. Every time the velocity of the expansion of the server logs took me by surprise! Running out of space is a bit nasty though, because it corrupts MySQL tables. Luckily the repair worked!

After seeing that people have an interest in it, I have added more features to make the app stickier, with pretty good success. Now there is functionality to decide analyses for your friends, change colors and fonts and backgrounds, make your own themes that others can use etc., all ever so slightly increasing the frequency of people visiting the app and the length of time they spend in it. Not a big difference, but with user numbers this large even a small percentage difference can be significant.

With monetization, I believe I have signed up for the best advertising network, which is Social Media. I do feel that I haven't really tried out all the other alternatives, but they pay so well that it's difficult to imagine that the others could be better. From discussions on the developer forum, there seems to be a consensus that Social Media pays the best. Only other options I have tried are Google AdSense and selling merchandize through Zazzle, but both of them paid an order of magnitude less than Social Media. Perhaps I should properly try out Cubics, VideoEgg and the others though, just to be sure.

Even though the merchandize (mug cups with your name on it) failed, I'm not sure that it was because the idea itself was flawed. Maybe the product, or having a link to an external site was the problem. Maybe if there was something that could be easily purchased while on Facebook, I could monetize better. Only ideas I've had so far are mobile phone background images or premium SMS subscriptions to get your name analyzed for your phone. That's something I might explore more.

So, how has this increased ad inventory affected my life? Well, I already told you that "Your Japanese Name" has allowed me to pay my rent, so you can guess that "Name Analyzer" has been even more significant in that respect. I won't make any big purchases though, only major thing is that I'll probably travel a bit more, still on a shoestring budget though. I'd like to think I'm pretty responsible when it comes to my spending. I don't have a car, I live in a normal sized shared apartment. I eat pea soup out of a can for dinner. I even have a spreadsheet with an inflation-adjusted plan for until I am 74, the age at which an average Finnish male tends to die. I don't have enough to live until then, so I'll keep saving. Couldn't resist getting a projector and a Nintendo DS though ha ha :p

I've gotten some very VERY interesting requests to appear at job interviews, but I don't really feel comfortable letting others decide what I should be making, now that I'm having so much fun thinking up new apps :) And I do have a lot of ideas! That list I started last year is getting really long. Lots of them are obviously stupid ideas when I look at them now, but for some it's hard to say! I hope I'll have success making some other type of app, I wouldn't want to be a one trick pony!