Facebook launched two interesting apps recently, and promoted them both very differently, giving us a perfect test case of how powerful Facebook can be if it chooses to really push an app. Those two apps are Messenger and Paper.
As most Facebook users know, Messenger is the company’s standalone messaging app. It’s a competitor to WhatsApp, Kik, Line, and all those other messaging apps. In the last few months, the company has split off Facebook’s regular messaging and chat functions into Messenger, and Facebook users on mobile phones have been heavily pushed into downloading and using Messenger to chat with their Facebook friends. Soon, the mobile push to Messenger will become all but forced, and messages will be stripped out of Facebook’s mobile app completely.
Facebook’s push in favour of Messenger has had a predictable effect on its fortunes. This data comes from App Annie. It shows Messenger’s download rank history in the Apple App Store in the U.S. — a market large enough to function as a rough proxy for everyone else.
Messenger rank download history:
You can see that when Facebook pushes Messenger, it stays near the top of the App Store. It’s close to the No. 1 messaging app all the time (yellow line) and in the Top 20 of all app types (blue line).
But Facebook treated Paper very differently. Paper is a Flipboard-type experience that runs a lot of news alongside your Facebook account. It’s beautiful to use (I use it all the time). But, just like Messenger, it doesn’t really do anything that competing apps aren’t already doing.
Facebook hasn’t pushed Paper on its users in any way. It released the app, and left it to its fate.
Paper rank download history:
Note the scale: Paper is currently the 107th most downloaded social network app (red line), and around the 1,500th most popular app of any kind (blue line). It’s nowhere, in other words.
Our “control” case — and I use that term lightly — is an app that was neither promoted nor ignored by Facebook: WhatsApp, which Facebook acquired earlier this year. For most of its history it has lived and died on its own merits. But note that its fate is rather more variable than either of its cousins.
WhatsApp rank download history:
WhatsApp does well, but it can never be sure how well it will do. It hovers erratically between being the 60th most popular app and the 20th (blue line). Even though it’s one of the biggest social network apps (yellow line) it often falls out of the Top 5 or 10 most popular apps.
Why is this interesting? Because Facebook is putting a big push behind apps, and encouraging developers to use Facebook as both a development and a marketing platform. Appmakers will have to pay for ads to get promoted on Facebook, of course. But the Messenger and Paper experiences look like they represent the extreme bookends of the Facebook app promotion experience.
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