Limitations and potential of new Facebook applications

TIM FAULKNER — As mentioned previously, Facebook is having problems dealing with its sudden burst of attention despite seemingly manageable volumes of use. iLike, a music sharing and recommendation application currently the most popular with 4300+ users, provides a snapshot of this issue as well as the possibilities; the 90+ reviews, mostly negative, point to some of the larger concerns facing these applications and Facebook.

The most immediate issue facing iLike, and all Facebook applications, is performance. While the site is no longer down, it is extremely sluggish. Users are reporting that the application is disappearing from their profiles after being added and configured, and this appears to be occurring with all new applications. Users are concerned that they'll need to reconfigure their applications and are already being turned off trying to experiment with the new features.

Other reviews are reporting concerns about privacy, that their data is being shared with iLike — a potential concern but odd considering that the sharing, recommendation, and discovery features are what distinguishes and makes iLike more compelling than the standard lists of favorite music.

Of course, Facebook is able to wash its hands of any concerns about iLike's use of your data: "Facebook is providing links to these applications as a courtesy, and makes no representations regarding the applications or any information related to them. Any questions regarding an application should be directed to the developer." iLike's developers have no such luck when it's Facebook causing the users' complaints. One developer from iLike already posted a review addressing the complaints of sluggish speeds and lost applications saying that there was little recourse as Facebook addresses the site's performance. (Facebook apparently doesn't allow the browsing of all reviews, only displaying the last ten. Am I missing something?)

Presuming these issues can be remedied, as far as functionality goes, the potential is there, but it's not apparent that potential will cause mass defections from MySpace, the current leader in social networks. Receiving recommendations based on your friends' music and iLike's database, comparing music preferences with other Facebook members, and being informed of area concerts does show the power of Zuckerberg's "social graph" over standard lists of your musical likes. There are also limitations: only 5 songs will display in your profile, songs must be selected rather than artists or albums, there are no radio streams offered by larger recommendation services, and purchase options appear to be restricted to iTunes. Minor issues for a fledgling social network widget, but with an open market of applications, competition amongst applications is sure to be fierce. iLike and all Facebook applications will have to rapidly add features and distinguish themselves with users to stay at the top of the rapidly growing list of available widgets (80+ and growing) as many already overlap in purpose.