Making the iPhone More Social and Viral – We Need a Social Graph

I’ve been playing with a lot of really interesting iPhone apps lately (mostly games) and one thing I’m finally beginning to see is a more concerted effort by iPhone application developers to start to think about viral distribution. As far as I can tell, the best two ways to get distribution for your app are to a) get some really good editorial coverage from a top iPhone app review site or b) get featured in the iPhone store. That makes sense given where the market is today.

Photo Phone Book – It’s caller ID + photos for your iPhone. It integrates with your Facebook friends and other photos you have on your phone. They have a clever part of the app that allows / suggests that you ask your friends to provide updated photos of themselves.

Loopt – The latest version of Loopt encourages you to check out other people you might know who are already on Loopt. I’m not entirely sure how they generate the list of people, but they were able to serve up about 30-40 people with whom I might want to connect.

I’m really curious to see how virality plays out on the iPhone. Looking back at many of the platforms that have launched in the last few years (Facebook, MySpace, etc), there is usually some first-mover advantage to taking advantage of new viral distribution channels before they get saturated. I’m interested in seeing how well iPhone app developers implement virality and whether it ends up working.

The other missing piece in this puzzle is some kind of newsfeed. I’m perplexed by the fact that there isn’t a simple way (that I know of, at least) to see what applications my friends have installed. With 15,000+ applications available in the App Store, there’s no way I’m going to filter through them all to find a few gems. But I would check out apps that my friends install.

Without a common social graph for iPhone users (Facebook Connect, anyone), I’m not sure how this could be done quickly and easily. But I do think it’s worth doing and I believe someone will do it sooner rather than later.

  • http://navajeet.com nav

    Not sure if http://app.spreadmob.com fits the bill. Still in beta, but I think the team is thinking in that direction.

  • http://www.sachinrekhi.com Sachin Rekhi

    I definitely agree there is an opportunity around alternate app discovery and promotion methods, either through an alternate app store or intra-app promotion. Seeing what your friends are adding or getting recommendations based on collaborative filtering (a la amazon.com) just makes sense.

    The question is whether this can come from a third party app or has to come from Apple itself. It's difficult to build an app that can know, for example, what apps you have installed. Apple may also be opposed to an alternate app store as they typically want to control the gates to everything. However, such an experience would only drive more app installs and purchases, so hopefully Apple will realize that and allow itencourage it.

  • http://www.charleshudson.net chudson

    Hi Sachin,

    I'm not sure that a 3rd party could do it unless that third party had huge market share on the iPhone (and by huge I mean 45%+ across its portfolio of applications) or a massive non-iPhone social graph (Facebook). I would hope that Apple would take the initiative and do it – it would lead to a consistent experience. The question is what social graph Apple would use. Would they bootstrap their own? Use the phone book? Partner with someone else?

  • http://www.charleshudson.net chudson

    Cool, I will check it out. Thanks for the pointer.

  • http://navajeet.com nav

    Sure.