The death of the "Social Reader" is greatly exaggerated
There has been a lot talk in the blogosphere about reported declines in utilization of so-called "Social Reader" Facebook applications, like those from the Guardian and the Washington Post. The dip in active users has led to a lot of conjecture about OpenGraph publishing being a passing fad and one that consumers are outright rejecting. Much of this conjecture is absolutely false, while some is just misleading. This is how we see the facts:
1. Reports of broad consumer rejection of Facebook seamless sharing are absolutely false. More and more applications are growing and thriving using seamless sharing (aka OpenGraph Publishing), such as SocialCam, which grew to 40M active FB users in the course of two weeks (http://www.appdata.com/apps/facebook/150768931647055-socialcam
2. Some Social Readers that are Facebook canvas apps, have seen declines over the last month. However, websites using seamless sharing, such as Yahoo News, have not seen any significant decline (http://www.appdata.com/apps/facebook/194699337231859-yahoo-social-bar
). We have confirmed this directly with many companies using OpenGraph publishing from their websites. The below graph for Yahoo shows that daily monthly active usage is still in the 40M zone, ranging between 38M to 42M.
It is important to draw a distinction between canvas apps and onsite integration. Onsite integration has a continuous source of organic traffic already, and hence is buffered from changes to Facebook newsfeed algorithms. Canvas apps like Washington Post Social Reader are going to be more affected by these types of changes given their sole reliance on Facebook traffic.
3. The drop-off in usage for social readers can be attributed directly to changes to the Facebook newsfeed algorithm. The drop-off starting April 10 looks dramatic because of a substantial rise in activity end of March and early April. Looking at the graphs holistically over a longer time horizon shows the effects of the Facebook newsfeed changes as rather minimal, relative to the total usage. This graph from Techcrunch and AppData, show that the Guardian's daily active user count went from 200,000 to 150,000, a 25% drop, but much more reasonable than a drop from 600,000 to 150,000, if you don't count the temporary peak:
It has been our experience that Facebook continuously fine tunes the algorithms, but the amount of referral traffic remains remarkably consistent over time. We believe that Facebook will strike the appropriate balance.
Thus, our conclusions are as follows:
1. Companies evaluating seamless sharing initiatives should recognize that the overall business benefit is still substantial, despite recent gyrations to the Facebook newsfeed algorithm.
2. Consumer usage is still strong as ever.
3. Companies that choose only to deploy Facebook canvas applications should be cognizant of the risks of having Facebook as the sole source of traffic to the application, which is why onsite integration is the preferred choice. Onsite integration yields a more consistent source of traffic using the OpenGraph APIs, and hence is less dependent on the Facebook newsfeed as the sole source of usage.