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The Class that built Apps, and Fortunes (nytimes.com)
126 points by dr_ on May 7, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 10 comments

As someone who knows a lot of the people written about here, I think this article says a lot more about the reporter than the people in it. Every now and then the Times publishes a story that completely lacks the kind of level-headedness that one would expect from an editorial process, and this is one of those stories.

Most of the people mentioned in the article are smart individuals--I have a lot of respect for Joachim's programming talent especially--but back in 2007, the amazing growth in their respective applications was due to Facebook's poorly-thought-out policies regarding application spam (and these apps all sent an unthinkable amount of spam, much of it misleading), not the Stanford class, and not some formula. It's possible to know this because once Facebook changed those policies (because of apps like the ones mentioned in the article), the growth immediately stopped. Most of the apps haven't existed in any meaningful form, if at all, for years.

Where are the articles about startups that have made great advances in tackling the enormous problems that plague the country? Those are the stories I'd rather read.

By way of full disclosure, I was Ed's co-founder at a startup he was also running in 2007 called Qubescape--not the one mentioned in the article. A lot of that venture's code became part of FaceCash, which I am currently working on. Ed started new with an app called PhoneBook and then friend.ly.

Viral growth actually can be explained with a formula for the viral factor (aka viral coefficient or k-factor). You can see the basic formula for Send Hotness's viral factor here: http://www.slideshare.net/StanFan/send-hotness-stanford-face.... When your viral factor is above 1.0, you will see exponential growth. In the case of Send Hotness, our viral factor was approximately 1.4, which allowed us to grow to 5 million users in 5 weeks. We spent much of our time in the Stanford Facebook class measuring and tuning the viral factor.

While it was easier back in the early days of 2007-08 to build viral apps on Facebook (hence the "gold rush" that is referred to in the article), it is still possible to do so today, albeit with quite a bit more effort. As you can see here, we have recently been growing virally at friend.ly, to the tune of 5 million users in the past couple of months: http://www.appdata.com/apps/facebook/5569318595-friend-ly

One other thing I should point out is that viral growth alone is not enough. Without engagement/retention, you will likely "jump the shark", as you can see Andrew Chen has discussed in the following blog post: http://andrewchenblog.com/2008/03/05/facebook-viral-marketin... This is one of the reasons why we have spent the past 18 months at friend.ly focusing on engagement and retention before trying to grow virally.

By way of full disclosure, I am Ed Baker, who Aaron refers to above. Aaron, good to hear from you. Glad to hear that you've been able to put some of the old Qubescape code to use at FaceCash!

Thank you for posting this. I think you underestimate how common these sorts of stories are in the NYT. They stand out when the reader knows enough detail about the subject being written about to see that it's largely made up... a story concocted around a few quotes and a few facts.

This is the main reason why I've stopped reading the NY Times on a regular basis.

It's the main reason I've stopped reading most mainstream media at all. Professional journalists just can't compete in most domains with actual practitioners. From Engineering to Law, it's almost invariably better to seek news of the field from practitioners' blogs.

It's certainly easier to appreciate startups that solve "real problems".

But the article wasn't focused on them creating some huge leap in value. (It specifically points out that most of the apps were "silly".) It was about them seeing an opportunity and seizing it, which arguably is what being an entrepreneur is about.

You're disagreeing with the implications of this story (and I agree that it was a special time for Facebook apps), but are the facts wrong? I'm wondering how much to discount it.

Yes. Facebook is much more intelligent right now. Last week I deployed an app for a client, it turned very viral, and facebooks bots stopped it in one hour.

The app only does this: you joiun, print on your wall, and must invite 3 friends to participe. That's all.

Anti spam bots suspended it.

So you can't run any viral app, except for the well known Zynga and all the rest of "parnters".

In an article where many, I am sure, see clear indication of a social bubble, I choose to see unbridled enthusiasm of a young tech community who were quick to see the potential of a growing social network and was equally quick to capitalize on its growth.

Sure, many of these apps have no actual depth to talk about, but they stand for "build quick and cheap, perfect later" which resonates with me and many others. Also, what good is a business or technology education that costs you a couple of hundred grand, unless it gives you an opportunity to recoup some of that before you graduate.

I really wish there are more "Facebook classes" or just classes where tutors challenge you to build ideas to fruition regardless of whether it makes one a millionaire or not. I am trying to do this in Richmond, Virginia with a couple of others, and trying to signup some patron saints from the business and technology community in the region to help out in this effort. For a region that has three Universities in a 50 mile radius (UR, VCU and UVA), we sure dont have a startup ecosystem here and it seems we have squandered that opportunity so far.

Major universities are not responsible for this sort of innovation.

It's usually people trying to get a break from the mainstream course selection and expected trajectory that end up doing something innovative to quell their boredom or do some mischief.

I was very confused for a second while reading the title, for some reason my brain associated 'fortunes' with a very different kind of fortune: http://fortunes.cat-v.org/

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