20th Oct, '07: New, inter-company publishing project Have been asked by James - a colleague here at Nature Publishing Group - to take a look at a trade publishing web project that he is setting up at Pan Macmillan, our sister company. Met with Benrik Ltd and Jon Butler from Boxtree at turkey curry buffet. Could a Facebook application be used to help market This Diary Will Change Your Life online? Yes! But not sure how. Diary is chock full of funny, reuseable content, exactly type of thing that you might want to share with your friends...
Donuts consumed: several. Walked briskly to tube station instead of taking bus.
6th Nov: Formulating a plan
James and I have come up with a spiffing plan: users who install the application get a new task displayed on their profile each week and can keep a mini-diary of how they are getting on.
Benrik are particularly progressive when it comes to the web, pleasant surprise after dealing with (some) scientists at day job. Everybody promised night of free cocktails, gambling and dancing on tables upon completion of application by Macmillan representative, hooray!
19th Nov: What the application does
Basic application is up and running. Working on polishing the functionality. Benrik are providing design assets and copy - good designers missing from a lot of Facebook apps, pleased that they're keen to get involved.
Developing for Facebook is very quick, which is partly why there are so many rubbish applications. A lot of the work is in the design process - what will capture the attention of Facebook users? We want to make things as simple as possible and yet be interesting and varied enough for people to come back regularly.
Two Benrik followers - Mel and Joel - are going to record themselves performing the weekly tasks. Users will be able to vote on which video they like best and at the end of 2008 the follower with the most votes will be crowned Benrikian of the Year.
To help motivation and to speed up production in time for xmas Diary buying rush we are reminded of free cocktails promise by Macmillan representative.
26th Nov: Facebook ToS
Have been spending time so far testing how different things will work but now it's crunch time - we launch next week. Things have come together nicely but some major bugs remain... we use YouTube to host videos (saves bandwidth and why reinvent the wheel?) but their API doesn't meet our requirements.
There's also the issue of the Facebook app screening process: to be accepted into the application directory your app must abide by the Facebook Terms of Service. Some of the diary's tasks are a little close to the edge - does encouraging readers to breathe heavily down the phone line at the Dalai Lama count as relgious intolerance? Is scolding other people's children illegal nowadays?
Macmillan representative pleased with progress. He suggests that I start building up my tequila resistance in anticipation of the glittering launch party.
Donuts: too many. May have to actually watch Davina McCall fitness DVD from birthday last year.
4th Dec: Budgets
Joyent have announced free hosting for Facebook applications. After some testing we switch over to them. Scaling is an issue with Facebook applications - overnight success can easily backfire if your server can't handle it. Running costs of application now approx. £0 and we can scale up to a paid plan during any spikes in traffic, hooray!
Hopefully people will learn about Benrik then go out and buy the book. We stick an Amazon link on the bottom of each page to make it easier.
Macmillan representative has disappeared.
6th Dec: Launch!
D-Day! Application is mentioned in Benrik's newsletter, which gets the ball rolling. Proves popular, gets a thousand installs over the first weekend.
Macmillan representative in Vegas launching app at 'trade show'. Free drinks sadly no longer in budget for project despite Joyent coup but he has promised packet of crisps and a pound for the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? machine upon his return...
30th Jan: Wrap up
The app is still growing, though now relatively slowly. Growth is not exponential but linear. Exponential growth is based primarily on invites - one user invites ten friends, they invite ten friends etc. but nobody pays attention to invites any more on Facebook.
Would a Facebook app work for other books? Probably depends on the book. Is there a hook into the content? Is that hook something that you would watch, laugh, and then forward on to your friends on a Friday afternoon?
Apps are certainly quick to build once you've got a concept, and they require no or very little marketing budget to grow (though a marketing budget doesn't hurt). Though we developed the Benrik app formally new tools might make app creation easy enough for marketing departments or tech savvy authors themselves to experiment with.
I know other publishing companies are using Facebook, sometimes in interesting ways (Penguin & Harper Collins both have Pages, for example - do a search). Does anybody know of any other RL-product specific applications?