An internal Facebook study revealed that 360 million users are addicted:
Users reported that the platform negatively affects their sleep, work, parenting, and personal relationships. Here's the scope of the problem, how long Facebook has known, and what it has (and hasn't) done about it.
Apple and Google are slashing app store fees in a race to the bottom. Why? Major lawsuits. This means more money in your pocket, but there's a catch.
Founder Allison Seboldt's political video game, Fantasy Congress, hit $10,000 in annual revenue. Below, she talks customer support nightmares, her trick to releasing new features, and the vulnerability involved in creating something fun.
Want to share something with nearly 85,000 indie hackers? Submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter. —Channing
😵💫 Facebook's Psychological Dilemma
from the Indie Economy newsletter by Bobby Burch
An internal Facebook study revealed that roughly 360M of the platform's users may have an "internet addiction," according to a Wall Street Journal report. Read on for more!
The news: Facebook’s research found that one in eight of its users demonstrates "compulsive use of the platform," reporting that it negatively affects their sleep, work, parenting, and/or relationships. So, in other words...it affects just about everything.
Curbing behavior: A Facebook research team offered a range of suggestions to curb addictive behavior, including deploying optional features to encourage breaks and limit notifications (some of which Facebook has already implemented). The company said:
We have a role to play, which is why we’ve built tools and controls to help people manage when and how they use our services. Furthermore, we have a dedicated team working across our platforms to better understand these issues and ensure people are using our apps in ways that are meaningful to them.
Nonetheless, Facebook claims that “problematic use does not equal addiction,” and argues that users are ultimately responsible for their own behavior online.
Facebook, recently restructured to become Meta Platforms Inc., said that it’s working on plans to thwart problematic use and address other challenges, like the platform's effects on body image and mental health. Still, the company argues that addictive behavior is not just a Facebook problem, but applies to various forms of technology, including TV, smartphones, and other social media. Facebook shut down its research team in late 2019.
More to come: Last month, a whistleblower leaked thousands of internal Facebook documents to the US Congress and various media outlets. This inspired the WSJ's Facebook Files series, which has proven to be a new PR nightmare for Facebook.
Programming addiction: Facebook makes its money on advertising (the company raked in $84.2B in 2020), and its ad sales rely on the platform's ability to keep people engaged. Social media platforms have a proven strategy for achieving this, according to therapist Melissa Stringer, who specializes in depression and social anxiety:
[They] activate the brain’s reward center by providing a sense of social acceptance in the form of likes and positive feedback.
What’s considered problematic Facebook use varies from person to person, but interference with daily functioning is generally a red flag.
Over time, some people grow to crave the affirmation provided by positive feedback on Facebook, thus forming an addiction. When they don't receive their "high," they experience negative feelings, and may even develop destructive behaviors.
In plain sight: We've known that Facebook, and other social media platforms, could be addictive for years. Psychologists began writing about Facebook addiction back in 2014. But what’s new is the magnitude of the problem, how long Facebook has known about it, and the fact that it decided to double down on engagement practices in order to keep people hooked, despite the findings.
For example: In 2016, Facebook created five new reactions to posts. Emojis expressing love, laughter, sadness, surprise, and anger appeared as available options under Facebook posts. According to the Washington Post, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable, because emotionally charged content kept users more engaged.
What are your thoughts on internet addiction? Share below!
Discuss this story, or subscribe to Indie Economy for more.
📰 In the News
from the Volv newsletter by Priyanka Vazirani
🤔 What happens to your crypto when you die?
🐢 Researchers have found a way to possibly slow down the aging process.
🤫 Nike is (quietly) building its metaverse.
💲 Alphabet has joined an exclusive list of companies with a $2T market value.
🎓 NYC's new mayor wants schools to teach about cryptocurrency.
Check out Volv for more 9-second news digests.
🏁 App Stores Are Racing to the Bottom
from the Growth & Acquisition Channels newsletter by Darko
Last week, Google announced that developers will be able to add alternative in-app billing systems for users in South Korea.
A few days ago, Google also announced that it will reduce in-app subscription fees from 30% to 15%.
On the same day, Apple revised its App Store review guidelines to allow developers to contact app users for alternative payment methods, including:
...sending an individual user an email about other purchasing methods after that individual signs up for an account within the app.
What's going on? Why are these large corporations suddenly being so generous by slashing their fees, or even allowing users to avoid them entirely? One word: Lawsuits.
Every single decision listed above can be traced back to one, or more, lawsuits.
Google's decision on South Korea: On August 31, the South Korean government passed a bill requiring Google and Apple to allow developers to offer alternative payment methods for their apps.
Google's fee reduction to 15%: 37 US states filed a lawsuit against Google in July for its unfair Play Store practices. The EU has also fined Google $5B for its dominance in Android, a decision that Google is currently appealing. This fee reduction could be one of the concessions made in an attempt to reduce the fine.
Apple's decision to allow alternative payment methods: You've probably heard of the Apple v. Epic lawsuit. In September, a judge issued an injunction ordering Apple to open up payment options for all sellers on the App Store, which it did.
There's more (regulation) to come
A new US Senate bipartisan bill would require Google to allow alternative billing systems, and require Apple to allow alternative App Stores.
The bill was introduced on August 11th, and I haven't seen any updates since, indicating that heavy lobbying is likely taking place.
Competition has already begun to emerge
Just days after Apple's announcement to allow alternative payment methods, Paddle, a popular payment provider in the SaaS space, announced an in-app purchase product that allows users to avoid Apple's hefty 15% fee, while also gaining access to customers' emails for support.
Facebook also announced that users can create recurring subscription links using Facebook Pay for 0% fees until at least 2023. The company was quite blunt about why it's doing this; the official announcement reiterated that creators are still paying at least 15% of their earnings to Apple. Until the end of the year, Facebook will let creators keep what they earn, and will even hand out bonuses of up to $20 for each subscription.
What does this mean for you?
More money in your pocket. However, there is a delicate balance to strike; adding new payment options to your app may reduce conversion rates. Some have argued that you can get around this by offering a 15-30% discount (the percentage Apple used to take from you) if users pay with Paddle, for example.
In any case, the future will be interesting to watch.
What are your thoughts on these lawsuits? Let's chat in the comments.
Discuss this story, or subscribe to Growth & Acquisition Channels for more.
🛠 Building in Public: Share Your Mistakes
by Ivan Romanovich
We all have ups and downs. It's a completely normal part of the creation of any product. Don't be afraid to share your mistakes or talk about what's going wrong.
Discuss this story.
🕹 Allison Seboldt Hit $10K ARR With Fantasy Congress
by Allison Seboldt
Hey all! I'm Allison Seboldt, founder of Fantasy Congress, a fantasy sports-style game based on American politics.
At the beginning of this month, Fantasy Congress celebrated reaching $10K ARR! I started on the project in 2018, and relaunched in February 2020 after a major pivot. In that time, Fantasy Congress has generated over $17K in revenue, and I'm currently on track to double what I made last year!
I've been running this project solo from the beginning. That means handling everything: Development, design, creating the rules of the game, etc. Wearing so many different hats can be crazy sometimes, but so far, I really enjoy being a solo founder!
You can check out my monthly retrospectives on my blog if you'd like to know more of the story behind Fantasy Congress. This was the first blog post that I wrote for my relaunch last February.
I've been indie hacking for roughly four years, and currently co-host the IH meetup in Chicago.
What's it like build a video game?
It's fun! But it's also stressful at times, because I'm constantly wondering if other people will think what I've created is fun too. When working on a normal web app, it's a lot easier to figure out how to satisfy your customers because you're fixing a problem for them. With a game, you're really putting your ego on the line. It's a very vulnerable experience.
Like with a normal SaaS, the way I've gotten around this is by asking for lots of feedback and keeping in contact with my users. It also helps that I'm a member of my target audience, so I have a good idea of what they're looking for from the game.
Learning about gamification has helped me some. I don't have a specific resource for that, but there are lots of great articles out there if you search.
Do all of your users come from the world of politics?
Most of my users are people who follow the news and politics a lot. Another big part of my audience is educators, who are using this to teach American government in the classroom.
Fantasy Congress is one of a kind, and it really resonates with its audience. People who are passionate about politics are willing to pay a small fee to enjoy the game. It's all about getting your game in front of the people who will have the strongest reaction to it!
What's your pricing structure?
When I first launched, Fantasy Congress was free to play. My plan was to create extra features that people could pay for if they wanted. I never got around to that, and quickly learned why freemium isn't a great strategy for bootstrappers: You're never going to get a reasonable return on your investment. Today, I charge people to play, but I have a 14 day free trial so that people can try it out before they buy.
How do you handle support?
These days, Fantasy Congress requires minimal support. This may be largely due to the nature of the platform it's built on. Fantasy Congress is set up like a basic web app with Django, and users play in the browser. I imagine with a video game that someone installs onto their computer, there are a lot more ways for things to go wrong.
While running the first iteration of Fantasy Congress, I tried to do some fancy stuff. This ended up translating to really buggy software that had lots of problems. Support was overwhelming at times, and at one point, I even had to turn off signups for a couple of days in order to catch up with everything.
From that experience, I learned that prevention is key when it comes to support. For the next iteration, I made the infrastructure of the game much simpler, and I took extra time during the development phase to run an alpha test with 100 users to catch bugs before I released it. I've also released new features as beta features, which I allow users to opt into before rolling them out to everyone.
This has cost me time, which sucks. But it's made the end product a lot more stable and sustainable. Also, paid users are much more understanding when stuff goes wrong than free users. Seems weird, but it's true!
What's your biggest funnel challenge at the moment?
The biggest problem with my funnel is getting people into it. I haven't found a sustainable, repeatable method for reaching my target audience. Luckily, people like sharing Fantasy Congress, so I've tried to optimize other parts of my funnel to capitalize on word-of-mouth growth.
Discuss this story.
🐦 The Tweetmaster's Pick
by Tweetmaster Flex
I post the tweets indie hackers share the most. Here's today's pick:
🏁 Enjoy This Newsletter?
Forward it to a friend, and let them know they can subscribe here.
Also, you can submit a section for us to include in a future newsletter.
Special thanks to Jay Avery for editing this issue, to Nathalie Zwimpfer for the illustrations, and to Bobby Burch, Priyanka Vazirani, Darko, Ivan Romanovich and Allison Seboldt for contributing posts. —Channing