It’s now officially a trend. Big social-media companies are now so dead-set on getting you to use their apps that they’re taking a sledgehammer to them, busting up perfectly serviceable software into collections of mini-apps they hope will have a better chance of catching your eye.
Foursquare, Facebook and LinkedIn are just a few of the companies that have recently pulled apart their main apps in order to spin off once-core features as standalone offerings. The standby Foursquare service is now two apps, Foursquare and Swarm; LinkedIn is now six. As befits the king of social media, Facebook is now represented by eight separate apps: the core Facebook app, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, Mentions, Paper, Slingshot and Facebook Pages Manager.
These companies say this app disintegration gives users a faster and more focused way to use their services. And it’s still supposedly easy to mimic the features of their once-monolithic apps, they say, because all these mini-apps will cross-link with one another.
Download All The Apps
On the other hand, there’s the risk of confusion. Which Facebook apps do I need again? And if I want to use all Facebook’s services on mobile, does that mean I have to download all of Facebook’s apps?
The social network recently eliminated chat from its flagship application, which instead forcing everyone to use Messenger, the messaging app that has more than 200 million active users. (That’s a mere fraction of Facebook’s billion-plus user base.) It’s also trying to stay relevant in ephemeral messaging with Slingshot, its (ahem, second) Snapchat competitor, and Paper, the news reader that makes Facebook look pretty, but hasn’t quite caught on. (Now there’s also Bolt, Instagram’s newest messaging app, though it’s unclear why, exactly, Facebook needed that one.)
In an interview with the New York Times earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained why Facebook is breaking up:
I think on mobile, people want different things. Ease of access is so important. So is having the ability to control which things you get notifications for. And the real estate is so small. In mobile there’s a big premium on creating single-purpose first-class experiences.
Foursquare, another social network, recently ripped out the check-in—a core function of its service since the beginning—and moved it to its separate Swarm app. The company wants people to use Foursquare’s revamped mobile app for finding places to eat or have fun, a different function entirely.
LinkedIn might be going further than any of them. The company has six different apps for the multitude of services the company provides. There’s one to manage your contacts, one to hunt for a new job, a flagship LinkedIn app that’s a slimmed-down version of the desktop site, and another specifically for recruiters. (No, that’s not all of them.)
Of Course You Want More Apps. Everyone Wants More Apps
Why are companies focusing so much on breaking up their apps, instead of making their flagship apps better?
LinkedIn says the move is necessary to cater to people who only use specific functions of its service.
“It’s hard to translate all of the LinkedIn experience into one app,” Tomer Cohen, head of the mobile product team at LinkedIn, said in an interview with ReadWrite. “We inherently believe every app should fulfill a very simple wish, and every app should be extremely simple.”
LinkedIn doesn’t expect all its users to download each individual app.
“If you’re not a job seeker, you won’t need to job seeker app,” Cohen said. “For us, it’s been about how can we surface those use cases that will make you much more productive and successful.”
Most of us won’t ever apply for a job on our mobile device. But, let’s say the only way for you to connect to LinkedIn is through a smartphone because you don’t have access to a computer. The mobile Web version is bulky and slow—for someone in this position, a separate mobile app for job hunting might help them find a job.
LinkedIn has six separate apps for distinctly different services, and it expects people to use multiple apps at any given time. Foursquare, on the other hand, now has two—and it’s trying to train people to acclimate to an entirely different Foursquare environment.
Early reviews of the company’s apps are not great.
Our mobile devices are already cluttered with apps—why would we want more?
People have been lamenting the overload of apps since the rise of the app economy. According to a study released by mobile analytics firm Flurry, the average mobile user launches apps 10 times per day—not 10 different apps, just 10 times in total.
What makes companies think their apps will be any different?
The abysmal performance of Facebook Paper (ranked 136 in the U.S. App Store for social networking) and Slingshot (ranked 357 in the U.S. App Store for photo and video) is further evidence that users might not be as enamored of this app explosion as the social companies are.
Foursquare, meanwhile, is facing a more direct user backlash. The @KillSwarmApp Twitter account, first spotted by NPR’s Elise Hu, is retweeting people who are frustrated with Foursquare’s dismantlement. Many of them are deleting Foursquare, or Swarm—or both.
Frustrated Foursquare user Aleyda Solis penned the post, “How to alienate your users and make them to leave your successful app,” in which she described the tactics Foursquare has done including taking a much-loved service and placing it in a completely different app.
Remember that you want them to forget that you ever existed, so even if they see you in the future they won’t relate you with your old app due to your new identity and they won’t be attracted to install you that easily anymore.
I already have too many apps on my iPhone, and most of my friends do, too. When I posted the question of whether my friends want one app to do many things, or many apps that do one thing, the response was overwhelming: One app.
In LinkedIn’s case, cherry-picking apps that serve one purpose might potentially appeal to a small pool of users, but chances are good that no one will install all six of them—unless, that is, you’re a LinkedIn employee.
Foursquare only has two real purposes—helping you figure out where to go, and letting you check in when you get there. Splitting up those features doesn’t make users happy—it alienates them.
Facebook has the money and resources to keep the app experiments coming. But for smaller companies and independent developers, sticking to one great app that serves multiple purposes might be the best way to make sure their app is one of the few people open and use each day.
Lead image by Matthew Wilkinson on Flickr