21 Comments

Summary:

Many recent headlines have been devoted to Facebook’s focus on HTML5, and specifically on an internal HTML5-based project at the company dubbed “Project Spartan.” But Facebook’s investment in HTML5 is nothing new — and it’s certainly nothing that the company has been secretive about.

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Many recent headlines have been devoted to Facebook’s focus on the HTML5 markup language, and specifically on an internal HTML5-based project at the company dubbed “Project Spartan.” But the amount of buzz seems to be taking Facebook a bit by surprise.

That may be because Facebook’s investment in HTML5 is nothing new — and it’s certainly nothing that the company has been secretive about.

Facebook hasn’t said much about the Project Spartan scoop published by TechCrunch’s MG Siegler Wednesday night, but a spokesperson did get back to me on Thursday afternoon with a basic statement: “We don’t expect developers to choose between HTML5 and native apps. We expect they will choose both, just as we did. We view HTML5 as a technology, not a platform.”

Translation of the PR speak? Facebook says all the chatter is much ado about nothing. Now, it’s never smart to take a company completely at its word, and Facebook could do any number of things in the future. But it makes sense that Project Spartan may not actually be the splashy, aggressively anti-Apple move it’s been made out to be.

The reality is, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor has talked for months of the importance he places on HTML5 development as way to conserve Facebook’s engineering resources. At a conference held by Inside Facebook back in January, Taylor complained that when his engineers update a feature, they have to update seven versions of the site, including Facebook.com, m.facebook.com, touch.facebook.com, the iPhone app, the Android app, and the Blackberry app. He went on:

It’s an incredible challenge, and there’s feature skew between all those different versions of Facebook… you end up picking and choosing platforms, when really your goal is to reach every single person you can reach on whatever device they’re using.

…Over the long term, people in Silicon Valley really view HTML5 as the future platform we will all be building to, and that’s where we’re putting a huge amount of our investment in the next year.

In that light, seeing Facebook’s HTML5 effort as only a strategic move against Apple seems a bit myopic — and even a little elitist. The fact is, when you take a look outside of the young upwardly mobile crowd, you’ll find a lot of people out there who love Facebook but don’t have iPhones or iPads. And given the famously premium price points of Apple’s devices and the growing popularity of other types of smart phones, there will continue to be a lot of people off of the iOS grid for the foreseeable future. It would make sense that Facebook, with 700 million users and growing, would want to be able to address all its mobile users on equal footing.

If Facebook is developing a fully featured web-based mobile platform that can be used across all devices — iPhones, Androids, Blackberries, Huawei IDEOS, whatever — it isn’t really anti-Apple. It’s just pro-Facebook. And really, would you expect a big tech company to act in any other way?

Image of the King Leonidas of Sparta monument courtesy of Flickr user Charalampos Konstantinidis.

  1. Project Spartan isn’t anti-Apple — it’s just anything that happens that could be a negative for Apple, the iSheeps freak out. In this instance, doing an end run around the Apple App Store. Calm down, sheeps, look there, some shiny Apple trinket

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  2. Lucian Armasu Friday, June 17, 2011

    Facebook’s webstore for mobile platforms could be the perfect solution for developers wanting to develop mobile apps cross-platform. Some of them have already done it, but I think it’s a bit hard for them to showcase their HTML5 apps without a popular store. Facebook can be that store of HTML5 apps that work across multiple platforms.

    By the way, does anyone else think should’ve been done by Google? Aren’t they supposed to promote HTML5 apps. I think they caught too much caught up in the head-on battle with Apple, and forgot that their focus should be HTML5 apps not native ones.

    I have to admit, I don’t like Facebook much, but I like what they are doing here, promoting HTML5 apps. This proves once again that competition is good, even when it’s “against” the companies you already like, such as Apple or Google.

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    1. Colleen Taylor Friday, June 17, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, Lucian. Building this kind of an HTML5 platform seems pretty challenging, but there are a few companies with the engineering power to do it. It’s interesting that Facebook is the one that’s stepping up to the plate.

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    2. I think the main benefit with the release of a Facebook appstore is not that it enables developers to build cross-platform mobile apps, (technologies already exist that enable this i.e. Phonegap) but that it (partially) solves what I see as a current problem with app stores in general – app discovery. Current app stores are very much like Yahoo of yesteryear; directories where users can seek applications by drilling down into categories and ordering by popularity. A Facebook appstore could improve this by utilising their biggest asset (the social graph map) and enable users to discover applications based on what their friends are using or enabling users to invite their friends to install the application. In my humble opinion that is the USP that I extrapolate.

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  3. HTML5 was new.i like using are new tecnology.
    no way facebook can handle without HTML5.

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  4. I only see one problem with this, Facebook has a poor record of protecting user data. This looks like another store that could be a real wild west with no privacy sharif in town.

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  5. Dave Thompson Friday, June 17, 2011

    Apple has been an earlier adopter and big promoter of HTML5 since the beginning. They are a main reference site for HTML5 browser development, see wwww.apple.com/html5

    Speculation that facebook would intentionally try to keep an app out of the app store just to deny apple revenue makes no sense no matter how one looks at it. Facebook app would likely be free to begin with, so no one stands to gain. Even if it was $.99, after minimum credit card processing fees on that tiny sum, the app author is out far more than Apple by not deploying in the app store.

    This facebook-apple thing is a miss-applied assumption from Financial Time’s subscription move. Completely different situation, with someone in the media mistakenly joining the streams on the “HTML5″ buzzword.

    Thanks GigaOm for a little more clarity.

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    1. Colleen Taylor Friday, June 17, 2011

      Good points re: Apple’s own work with HTML5. Thanks for bringing that up, Dave.

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    2. It’s not about a app but a platform. Think Angry Birds, Cityville, Skype… all being facebook app. Now calculate revenue

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  6. I’m all for Facebook’s HTML5 push. As far as I’m concerned the more HTML5 is used, the better.

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  7. Any comment on MG at TechCrunch saying you’re just following the PR spin from Facebook that was emailed out after his article was written?
    http://techcrunch.com/2011/06/17/we-will-fight-in-the-shade/

    According to him, you’re picking up the FB PR points perfectly …

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    1. I’m also curious about this – is this just straight from Facebook PR?

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    2. John/Eric

      Thanks for your comment and your questions. Let me share a few links to give you a longer term view we have of Facebook & its mobile efforts.

      If you have been a regular reader, you would know that we have been tracking Facebook’s mobile ambitions for a long time. A very long time. For example, http://gigaom.com/2009/02/10/why-facebooks-future-is-mobile/

      This post of mine from last September which outlines how Facebook is building an HTML5 layer on top of Android. (http://gigaom.com/2010/09/23/facebook-phone/) From this post from last year, it is pretty clear Facebook’s mobile plans are all about making Facebook more attractive/more money. It has less to do with Apple in isolation. It is about Google, Apple and every other mobile OS platform that can benefit from this HTML5 based approach and of course that means running apps inside the Facebook HTML5 app.

      Hope that helps.

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      1. I find it interesting that whenever FB does anything remotely in Google’s space (or NOT!), you guys are quick to sing your oft-repeated “FB will Google’s ass” anthem. But when FB is doing something that would directly compete with Apple’s app store, you want to downplay the FB vs Apple angle.

        It is clear what the hierarchy on Gigaom is: Apple > FB > Google.

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      2. I accidentally the verb in my previous comment. I meant to write: ‘your oft-repeated “FB will kick Google’s ass” anthem’.

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    3. Colleen Taylor Friday, June 17, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, John. A few things:

      1. Every single part of the story that’s not my personal opinion is completely factual and attributed to its source.

      2. I reached out to a Facebook PR rep yesterday, and we talked on the phone– he did not send me one of these storied emails. What I put in quotations is the only part of my article that was informed by my conversation with him. As a rule, I never use PR people as unattributed sources.

      Bret Taylor’s comments from January, for example, were pointed out to me by an engineer (who doesn’t work at Facebook) on Wednesday night, in a casual conversation we had about TechCrunch’s Project Spartan scoop.

      3. I think looking at Project Spartan as purely an Apple-killer is myopic and elitist. That’s my opinion and I completely stand behind the story.

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  8. the FaceBook vs. Apple meme is plain stupid. for the social web, FB’s big competitors are Google and Microsoft. MS hopes to greatly expand XBox Live. Google is hoping to combine all its cloud/location services into whatever, not to mention trap you within its Chrome OS walled browser garden. but Apple isn’t seriously in this game at all.

    FB’s app will be kinda like a mini Chrome OS running on iOS. they want you to use it like a homepage. FB needs some way to “monetize” its popularity much more than now. otherwise it’s business model is more popularity hype than dollars in the bank.

    Apple does not run its stores for the sake of their 30% cut of sales less Apple’s substantial expenses for them. it runs those stores- including the retail stores too – too sell its hardware. if FB has a great iPad app, that will help sell more iPads and Apple comes out way ahead.

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  9. Makes sense to me. As long as the mobile site is as fast and has as many (if not more features) than the native app I don’t really mind!

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  10. I enjoyed the thought and perspective that went into this story. The original TC story seemed like an absurd false-battle argument. It made no practical sense whatsoever that an HTML.5 site was targeting Mobile/Safari and wouldn’t be a x-browser compatible offering aiming at the mobile market in general, far broader than iOS.

    iOS is a tiny fraction of the mobile universe (lucrative, but small in terms of numbers) and Facebook don’t appear to ever go after niche segments as they clearly aim to reach/connect/hook the largest, youth demographic (teens – who are vital to their growth, i.e. new blood); who don’t happen to be iOS users in any bulk numbers.

    What’s really telling is the story-behind-the-story here – The tech blogosphere is segmenting much like cable news. GigaOM are taking the CNN space, one competitor is taking the Fox News approach and putting personality ahead of the stories that are covered (Pop quiz: Who is the Glenn Beck equivalent in the tech-blogger world?).

    The secondary story that’s emerging will be fascinating to watch unfold – Particularly as tech companies and start-ups consider where they release news and seek favour for their PR initiatives. The tech blog universe may undergo some fundamental changes in the next year – who’s going to write that story?

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