Here's a fairly fascinating article
from Inc about ChipIn, the makers of the incredibly popular - and incredibly irritating and pointless - "Pirates vs. Ninjas" and "Werewolves vs. Vampires" Facebook apps.
Props to them for having the courage and focus to junk the apps to instead focus on their core business, which seems like it has legs.
ChipIn's decision to unload indirectly answers (or poses?) two fairly difficult questions I recently tried to answer:
What makes a good Facebook app?
How can developers monetize their Facebook apps?
Regarding "good" Facebook apps, I don't think that there are very many yet. However, my favorite by far is the FriendFeed
app. It aggregates my activity from other sites/services - NetFlix, LastFM, WordPress, etc. - and displays it in my FB news feed, along with all of the other FB news feed activity. I like the app because it helps me represent the "me" that extends beyond FB.
I had a thought about synchronizing offline activity through a Facebook application, but that seems a little complicated. For example, I really like old school Nike basketball shoes. Through some nifty web services integration with FB, Nike could build an app that shows my shoe collection - or at least the shoes I purchased from Nike.com. Something like this is at least tied to reality, plus it facilitates the "look at me" conspicuous consumption that characterizes social network users...or just about anyone that is passionate about something - shoes, artists, apparel brands, etc.
Another thought is a light weight "ticker" application that users could install on their computer that shows their news feed. Such an app would enable FB users to see their friends' activity even when they're not logged in and also provides them a mechanism to "stealthily" use the site while at work. Facebook could serve social ads through the feed, as well as embedded ads within the app. In addition to extending Facebook's reach beyond the site and mobile platforms, the concept would drive more page views and enhance the overall stickiness/addictiveness of the site. I imagine that this type of application would have to come directly from Facebook and would work best as a part of an IM platform.
Presently, it seems that "show more about yourself and your individuality" and "have a lame excuse to contact your friends" are the largest/only "problems" that FB apps are trying to solve, neither of which I find very pressing. I'm not exactly sure what the "real" problems - at least not yet - but I'm sure they're out there.
Re: $$$, the fact that the developer of one of the most popular apps in the platform dumped the application side of their business illustrates the monetization challenges facing FB app developers. These guys had a large, fairly captive audience and could only sell banner ads embedded in their applications. (Not that I have a better idea.) You gotta think there is something else there, though I guess at least the buyer does...
In my opinion, the company that figures out how to conduct commerce through Facebook stands to do quite well. For example, Facebook already has my credit card and other purchase information from the ad campaigns that I've recently run, so it seems to make sense that I should be able to use the same information to buy from a 3rd party through an app. If it works, online retailers are happy because they have a new channel and Facebook is happy because they can skim a little off the top of each transaction.
(Note - I have no idea if the application platform supports e-commerce transactions. If it doesn't, it should.)
Otherwise, ads or some sort of ad revenue share with Facebook are pretty obvious ideas.
OK - this is way longer and way more fragmented than I intended. I'm going to bed. Perhaps I'll finish my thoughts tomorrow.