My CNET colleague Jeff Sparkman tipped me off to an odd twist in the world of Facebook application acquisitions. As of Wednesday night SpeedDate.com, the purveyor of the Web video-based online dating service snatched up the rights to the Oregon Trail Facebook application, which will soon be replaced with the service's existing speed-dating application.
That's right--instead of trying to cross 15-foot wide rivers and avoid dysentery, you'll be looking for love with your Webcam.
Early Thursday, users of the service got a message: "Next week, Oregon Trail's name and functionality will be changed to SpeedDate. Data entered into the original app won't be used anymore. Soon you'll be able to try SpeedDate, the fastest way to meet new people, so stay tuned! P.S. If you want to opt out of this app, instructions can be found here." Until the change, the Oregon Trail application remains fully accessible.
The change is clearly a move to capture the attention of some of the service's 11,200-plus active monthly users and woo them to use SpeedDate.com. This is a small-time number compared with some of the top applications, like RockYou's Super Wall which has more than 18 million monthly users. However, depending on how much SpeedDate paid for Oregon Trail, this could be far cheaper than spending that money on marketing.
The most interesting aspect of this is that the practice of changing an application's functionality and namesake is completely fair and legal according to Facebook's platform application guidelines and terms of service. Developers are free to make these drastic changes to their applications as long as they stay within Facebook's relatively loose rules. The only gray area is in this tenet:
"You must be honest and accurate about what your application does and how it uses information from Facebook users. Your application cannot falsely represent itself."
To SpeedDate.com's credit there's been a period of warning, and nobody is paying to use the application. The company is also purging the existing user data, and providing opt-out instructions to get them off the application and out of any mailing lists.
In my mind this still doesn't sit right though. People generally do not like using one service then having it switched to something else entirely overnight. A more recent example of this is SpyMac, which in early 2007 went from an artsy Apple computer community and tools service to a Web media host in the course of a day, much to the chagrin of its long-time users. According to Compete.com that change brought in a quick spike of traffic, followed by a slow and steady drop in both visitors and page views, which are now lower than before the change.
I pinged SpeedDate.com's founder Dan Abelon about the acquisition and change, and he notes that the application his company picked up is not the more popular Oregon Trail application, which was renamed Northwest Trail after being picked up by SGN earlier this year. Instead it's a knockoff. SGN's app has nearly seven times the number of monthly users although it has dropped in usage over the past eight months, which may partially be due to Facebook's redesign.
Abelon says they still haven't figured out which features will be added to the new SpeedDate Facebook application, but it's a good bet there won't be any wagon inventory management involved.