Facebook Class: Sealed with a Kiss(Me)

Professor Fogg, iPhone clutched in hand, began the class by asking if everyone had received his Facebook message alerting them to that morning’s OpenSocial announcement. The class nodded. Of course they’d seen the message, they’d all been logging insane hours on Facebook. But not in the usual stalker sense. They were students of the now hyped Stanford class, CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps.

The explicit goal of the class is to have students produce two functioning apps for the social networking site by the end of the quarter. This past weekend the class’s first apps went live; yesterday was demo day. Between stories of crashing servers and yet-to-implemented functionality, the class — some 85 students, from freshman undergrads to MSEs and MBAs — presented a staggeringly creative 25 live apps. One student commented, “It’s weird having an app out there with people using it. You kind of have to babysit it.”

Here are our top five favorites from demo day.

  • Tournaments — Want to host your own March Madness pool, a soccer tournament or a pong championship, but aren’t so great a bracketology? Tournaments has got you covered with a slick-looking app that allows you to create tournaments with up to 64 of your friends. (6 daily active users)
  • The Gumball Machine — Pulling information via Kiva’s RSS feed, Gumball displays microloan projects of your choosing. Soon the team will add the ability to loan money through the app. It’s like Causes, but potentially better, for all the economic reasons microloans are better than charitable aid. (2 users)
  • Guess Who? — Just as Scrabulous updated the classic word game by taking it online, Guess Who? brings the headshot-flipping game into cyberspace. Capitalizing on the social side of Facebook, the characters on your board are pulled from your friends, allowing for much more nuanced deductions. (0 users)
  • PhotoGraph — While all of the functionality isn’t there yet, PhotoGraph lets you to peruse Facebook pictures in a less linear fashion by allowing you to browse across albums. The algorithm supposedly learns your preferences, and as more photos get indexed, will offer better results. (90 users)
  • Dodgeball — Want to peg someone with a dodgeball? How about a soccer ball, or a high ball, or a wrench? All possible with the dodgeball app, which allows you earn points by “hitting” friends who have the opportunity to “dodge” before they get clobbered. (4655 users)
  • For a complete laundry list check TechCrunch.

The viral success story of the class is the KissMe application, which allows for digital smooching, complete with scarlet lips prints smacked onto your profile. The app has 36,916 daily active users and over 100,000 installs. The class discussed techniques for improving adoption, including optimizing apps for the news feed, designing apps to appeal to both sexes, and click-through trickery.

However, the class is not an exercise in making a simple Facebook meme. The course forces students to work on every stage of product development, from conception all the way through to market launch. Fogg forces his students to be cerebral in their approach, constantly asking why users are behaving a certain way, and has organized weekly discussions on “the psychology of Facebook.”

Co-instructor Dave McClure offers his industry-side experience as a compliment to Fogg’s academic approach. He apparently greeted the students by saying: “This will be the last class you ever take.” To which Fogg quickly responded: “No, no! Finish your degree! At least finish the quarter.”

We’ll see. Next quarter, OpenSocial Class?