Learnings from a Terms of Service Violation

MySpace Developer Site Last Friday afternoon I wrote a MySpace application called Visitor Track. This is not a wholly original idea – nor was I the first to try it on MySpace. As of this writing there is even another application still listed in the application directory.

Before I explain how I went about going from 0 to 12,000+ users in a matter of 48 hours, I want to mention a few things.

1. It’s critical to understand that the MySpace audience clearly demonstrated a desire for more information about who’s looking (or not looking) at them.
2. Having a fantastic marketing plan will not make an application succeed no matter how cool YOU think it is, it needs to find an audience.
3. There is AMAZING growth potential in the MySpace application domain, even without notifications, invites and the viral components developers desire and users loath.

What I did was leverage the users profile well, provided a clean canvas with only what the user was expecting and was straightforward and honest in the application description. While I certainly could have leveraged advertising to promote the application, I chose not to so I could watch the growth of the application as it progressed organically.

The following chart is from Zynganomics who’ve been tracking MySpace applications since the initial launch of the platform.

Installed users over time provided by Zynganomics

As you can see, prior to the suspension of the application, growth was extremely strong.

Leverage the profile:

This is the single most important thing developers on the platform can do right now. With a general lack of viral push channels, developers need to hope that users find them. MySpace has recently started adding friend feed notifications about application installs and that has helped fuel growth through awareness within social circles.

The Profile for Visitor Track was a plain white box with two lines of text. I made the box as small as I could so it didn’t clutter the users profile with useless information. You can see what it looked like here:

Visitor Track - Profile Screenshot

The language, placement, size, color – everything – about the profile should be considered over and over and over and over again.

Name of the application:

The name of the application is very important. The largest viral channel available to applications today is the Friend Subscriptions. Basically a copy of the Facebook Newsfeed feature, this is the one place that the application will be seen by users you won’t otherwise touch.

MySpace Friend Subscription

Graphic design is over-rated:

My application about page had a poorly created icon and just a few lines of text to describe the application. I spent no time creating a fancy graphic interface – no time altering the colors of the page or install buttons with CSS and kept everything about as plain as it could be.

Visitor Track Application About Profile Page

Compare that to the highly designed canvas pages of larger applications from widget giants like Slide and Rock You below:

Slide and Rock You Application About Screenshots

Note: that the arrows facing the install buttons are animated in both cases and that neither app has more installs than Visit Tracker did.

Speed is everything:

If you aren’t tied to OAuth authentication and tight OpenSocial integration use an IFRAME – it’s less secure for you as a developer, but you ultimately control the communication between your application and your users. You’ll rely on REST requests to gather information about your users which means you’ll leverage the backend hardware more. However, what you lose in signed ajax requests and opensocial.postTo(), you make up for in speed and reliability. I’ve observed continual performance bottlenecks accessing AJAX content during peak times. While it’s reasonable to assume that this will continue to become more stable, now is the time to begin capturing audience before it’s too late.

Deliver:

Because it’s so easy to get started as an app and because the market of available users is so large, even knockoff applications can be quiet successful in terms of capturing users and market share. Consider the number of applications attempting to build on the success that applications experienced on Facebook like Honesty Box (of which I am a developer) on MySpace today (there are no less than 5 copycat applications).

It’s critical to deliver on what you told the users you would do! Below is a screenshot of the canvas (I omitted the right hand column which was advertising – a naive attempt to make money in this endeavor).

Visitor Track - Canvas Screenshot

As you can see I kept it really simple. I leveraged the amazing Google Charts API for the graphs and the rest is just text. There’s gold in them hills, and a diligent miner with the appropriate tools will find it. Even this relatively little application had nearly 20K page views, which monetized effectively could yield ~$120/month or more.

I want to apologize to any MySpace users and employees who might have been offended by my application. I sincerely hope you’ll forgive my transgression against the TOS and that we can make beautiful applications together in the future (that don’t violate the TOS).

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