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Is Facebook Worth Its Platform Hype?

What's with the sudden hype over Facebook?

In May, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the Facebook Platform, which allows third-party developers to build applications for the social utility's users. The parade hasn't stopped since.

Whether it happens on the Today Show or tech gossip blog Valleywag, coverage for Facebook since the platform launch has been nothing short of iPhone-esque in some circles.

But Facebook users aren't so sure the platform is worth the hype.

"I'm not really into it," Phillip Carkhuff, a Facebook member going into his freshman year at the University of Dallas, told internetnews.com. The mini-apps, he said, are nice. "But I'd rather stick to the basics."

George Washington Law student Zach Williams, a Facebook member since 2004, was also unimpressed.

"The appeal of Facebook is how simple and organized it is," Williams told internetnews.com. "All those new applications just clutter up profiles and are largely ignored or forgotten by most users."

Facebook spokeswoman Brandee Barker told internetnews.com a different story, of course. To counter Williams and Carkhuff, she said more than 50 percent of Facebook users have added at least one application.

The most popular application is iLike, which allows members to add streaming music and music videos to their profiles. In addition to recommending new music and artists, iLike alerts users when their artists go on tour, as well who else plans to go to the concerts.

Numbers-wise, iLike is a hit. With more than 4.5 million Facebook users signed up, the application has more than doubled its user base since joining Facebook Platform, adding over 300,000 users a day.

But there's a long list of also-ran apps on the platform, making the popularity of iLike seem an anomaly. The drop-off from the fourth most popular app, Super Wall, to the fifth most popular app, My Aquarium, is particularly steep, from 1.7 million subscribers to just 200,000.

With the disparity in these stats, can Facebook justify the hype, or is the social network in the middle of developing its own little platform bubble? That depends on whom you ask.

The platform's architect

The first thing you'll notice about Facebook CTO Adam D'Angelo is that he needs more sleep. Maintaining the site at all hours of the night doesn't leave him and his developers time to create new Facebook features.

D'Angelo said that during the first few years of Facebook's existence, many new features emerged only out of a series of all-nighters called "hackathons."

Now that there's a Facebook platform, third-party developers will do most of that work. "We don't even create the features on Facebook. We just create the platform and then developers create the features and then users create the content," D'Angelo said.

Of course, Facebook wouldn't be able to outsource its workload to third-party developers without offering some incentive. Or at least promise of it. To help with that, D'Angelo was happy to play the prophet. He said they hope developers will make money with their apps.

The word has reached the masses.

Facebook's Barker said that more 25,000 developers have already created more than 1,000 applications for Facebook in the month since the platform's launch.

Among them is developer BJ Fogg who attended the Facebook platform launch rally in May. "I'm excited about Facebook; they've reached critical mass," Fogg, founder and chairman of Yackpack.com, told internetnews.com, adding that Facebook will provide his application the thing it needs most: users.

The Facebook platform, in the minds of converted developers like Fogg, will provide instant access to an audience that by May, according to ComScore, had grown 89 percent over the same period last year and 100 percent since September.

"Before we had to convince people to join a social network, and it's gotten to the point where a lot of people are getting registration fatigue. Now they're already there [on Facebook]. It's perfect for our application."

And every other developer's too.

But the question remains, are those 25,000 developers Barker mentioned creating an economy on the Facebook platform or just a logjam? Remember, only the top four applications have more than a million users at this point.

The only way to know might just be for developers to keep building.

Next page: VC dangles the carrot.