Stanford Facebook Class: 10 Million in 10 Weeks

Stanford Facebook Course Final – Stanford World Domination
Originally uploaded by sindy

I’ve been working somewhat with, among others, the instructors (especially BJ Fogg and Dan Ackerman Greenberg) for the Stanford Facebook class CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps, figuring out how to use Facebook and its application development platform to encourage development of apps to promote student life, aid in teaching and learning, reach out to alumni, and more. (My department, Student Computing, is currently running an app contest to encourage development of just those kinds of apps.) Wednesday night, I attended the class final– a full-blown presentation on the class (including the journey from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab exploring how to computerize persuasion in 1993 to the development of the class itself), aims of the course, lessons learned, and, most importantly, the apps produced by the class’ 25 student teams.

The class has gotten a lot of hype, especially in the blogosphere, and much of it has been about how students were looking to find the secret to building the next big app and, in turn, making big money from it (check out this WREX-TV, video and try not to be distracted by the dumbed-down and sometimes nonsensical tech imagery for the narration). Much of the class focused on metrics and taking advantage of the viral nature of social networking sites like Facebook– aiming, for each app, a high number of users (especially daily active users) and high engagement (number of page views and time spent with the app). The apps developed, as you can tell from the phrase “10 million in 10 weeks,” were largely successful in achieving these goals with over 10 million installs, over one miliion daily active users, and a handful ranking in Facebook’s top 100 apps (out of over 10,000): Perfect Match, Send Hotness, Hugs, and KissMe (originally based on the Full Moon on the Quad tradition at Stanford). (Sorry if I missed any that reached the top 100.)

However, focusing on getting the largest number of users doesn’t always result in developing the “deepest” or most “socially meaningful” applications– as one commenter put it, even the “Stanford intellectual elite [can be] devoted to producing such monumental drivel.” (Before the Stanford-developed KissMe app, just think of the success of the unbelievably simple Zombies app.) So, instead of focusing on the apps that had the highest number of users, I want to point out two apps that are particularly socially conscious and show how to take advantage of the power of the Facebook network:

  • The Giving Tree – the developers of this app partnered with Kiva to piggy-back on the growing awareness of the power of microlending. Facebook users don’t even need to pony up their own money– instead, once 50 people have added one of the selected businesses to their profile, $25 is pushed to the business using money donated from companies.
  • Save the Rainforest – here, the developers partnered with The Nature Conservancy to take advantage of some of the time Facebook users are spending on the site everyday. Users play a vocabulary game and for every six correct answers, one square foot of the rainforest will be adopted through The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre program. As of the class’s final presentation night (December 12, 2007), 5,000 square feet had already been saved!

You, like me, are probably trying to reduce the app clutter on your Facebook profile, but if you’re going to use apps, I think these two are certainly worth it.

And with that, I leave you with a short video of Dave McClure leading the audience in The Wave to get them psyched up for the presentations: