Consumer App Audiences; Here today, gone tomorrow…

I read these numbers in a blog post by Christina Cordova of Stripe. “The Biggest Problem in Mobile: Retention” (tweeted by my friend Peter Horan)

Socialcam: In June, Socialcam had 83.6M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 4.3M. This is a decrease of 95% in 5 months.

Viddy: In June, Viddy had 20.9M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 660K. This a decrease of 97% in 5 months.

Draw Something: In April, Draw Something had 36.5M monthly active users connected to Facebook. Today, it has 9.1M. This is a decrease of 75% in 7 months.

It got me thinking, how can anyone build a consumer business that lasts on Facebook or mobile? Are those examples more typical or abnormal? To me they seem more common than rare. It feels like we hear about declines like this all the time.

It seems that the challenge with consumer mobile and social is a a good deal more complex than just “retention” as Christina’s blog post suggest. I am sure those sites listed above had great retention, for a while. That is how they built such large numbers that they peaked at (see above). But there is the concept of time scale that comes into play.

The bigger question is more about longevity (we are just talking about several months or hopefully a couple years here) and its impact on building a sustainable business and company. So even if your team can create something compelling enough to attract a huge audience (10s of millions), if you can only expect those users to stay around for a few months then what is the real value of even achieving that in the first place?

Just for the record, I don’t think those site above, and others like them, are buying those users. I think most of those users really liked the product being offered, they just grew tired of it, almost as fast as they fell in love with it in the first place…

Does that mean we just build stuff, try to “time” the peak, and sell? What if we are a little late in our decision to sell, and the MAU chart starts to slope down? Then who buys? Seems like a pretty precarious model….

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