Why Facebook's Future Is Mobile

57 Comments

facebook-logoWith nearly 2,000 “friends” on Facebook, I should be a regular visitor to the site. I am not. Instead, I prefer to use Facebook’s mobile application on my iPhone to send messages, update my status, upload photos taken on the go and sometime even scroll through the news feed to see what my friends are up to. The ad- and clutter-free interface has fewer distractions and makes using Facebook a breeze.

Apparently, I am one of 25 million Facebook mobile users and one of 4 million who access the service on a daily basis. That’s a sizable portion of Facebook’s 150 million (and growing) registered users, and with them lies Facebook’s future. With the rise of superphones such as Apple’s iPhone, the BlackBerry Bold and Nokia’s E71 and N96 devices, we are at the cusp of a new era in which the mobile and the wired web converge. This convergence, when married to location-based services, would create a new real-time and highly contextual Internet experience.

I recently pointed out that “as we transition to an increasingly mobile world, the location beacon takes the role of the TCP, and most mobile services (and applications) find their context from this location beacon.” In this brave new world, the browser-centric method of “search, find and consume” is quaint at best. These superphones, driven by location beacon and live Internet connections, need to be able to display relevant data with a lot of serendipity. Google is hoping to achieve that by marrying location-based services and local data using a map as an interface.

Compare that to Facebook’s mobile efforts, which could pivot around your real social graph (a fancy way of saying your address book). By merging the social network with your phone’s address book, Facebook integrates the mobile with the web seamlessly to provide a mobile experience with a higher degree of social relevance. “Facebook has all along said it wants to mirror real-world relationships,” Liz Gannes wrote last year. “When you throw mobile into the mix, there’s no reason to even have to separate so-called offline and online contacts.”

With your social network at your proverbial finger tips, forget making phone calls to plan an evening out or a Superbowl party. Facebook can also help extend its vast array of applications to the mobile world, making planning such activities relatively easy. Some of these applications will provide advertising and e-commerce opportunities. For instance, if you are going to see movies with a friend, a reminder of a nearby bar where you could meet for a pre-movie drink could pop up in the ad. It would be a paid placement of course.

A clue to the future comes courtesy of a new web- and mobile-based recommendation service from New York-based startup, Goodrec. It allows me to recommend books, restaurants or places, then shares them with my friends on Facebook. The service aggregates the recommendations from my social network and puts them to use when I need some help in making decisions. When looking for a restaurant recommendation in say Dallas, I can pull up recommendations from my friends on my iPhone. These recommendations are an appropriate place to offer highly relevant advertising — whether it comes from the application developer or Facebook. My bet is that Facebook will start an ad network to target application developers such as Goodrec.

But that will come in the future — for now Facebook has to work on getting millions of its members to sign up for its mobile version.

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com.

57 Comments

nick

I agree completely with your ideas about facebook.I think the future is everything.so i really luv it

sajith

I never really used Facebook all that much until I tried out the BlackBerry client. What an epiphany! All of a sudden the whole thing came alive and became very useful. In particular the ability to share the moment instantly with a geo-tagged photo upload is killer. The ability of a mobile client to make a service relevant is even more true of Twitter. After all, unless you’re tweeting on-the-go, the Twitter question should really be “What WERE you doing?

Maria

I’m totally in Facebook especially now when I’m using iPhone. So, basically I completely agree that Facebook’s future is mobile

Erica George

If only the Facebook iphone app were better, though! I constantly have to remind myself to check the full version on my computer for events, groups, sending a message along with a friend request, and some other stuff that it just doesn’t make sense isn’t done better in the iPhone app.

Also, why doesn’t Facebook have a (better-working) version of the FriendSync app, so I can easily call my friends if I have them friended in FB. I see their fear in moving anything out of their proprietary system but the enhanced utility is still meaningful.

Rob

@ Michael Martin
Until devices like the iPhone support apps in the background, I don’t see how these location-based services are going to take off. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Loopt only works when the people you are looking for are also using Loopt at the exact same time? Well what good is that? What are the chances the one of my friends is going to happen to be in the app at the exact same time that I am? More likely, we’d have to have coordinated it. And if we had to coordinate it, why didn’t we just call or text each other to begin with? When I can be in another app, or when my iPhone is in standby and it beeps and/or vibrates to let me know that a friend is nearby, then this will be useful. Until then, it’ll just be another “oh, cool” feature.

Desmond Pieri

You are right, Mobile is what makes sense for Facebook. But the missing link is this: There needs to be one single Facebook application that will work on every cell phone. Facebook for mobile only realizes it’s full power when I know that all my Facebook friends are mobile too (and not just my Facebook friends who have smart phones.) This will, in fact, be possible before the first day of spring.

David Yon

What I really like about this story is that it gives another example of how Apple (and all the 3rd party iPhone app developers) delivered on the promise of the Mobile Web: ENHANCING the web experience while on the go. They delivered very well with Facebook but also MySpace and other apps like Pandora. These examples show you that when you are good, you can take a very interactive experience originally designed for PCs and still adapt them beautifully to the 3rd screen. And this is just the beginning folks, as I am sure bringing LBS and voice command will make these babies even more addictive. Now if only the network could follow, right Om? ;-)

Devin Davis

I completely agree with your views on this one, Om. Even on a Blackberry Curve, the Facebook app is more convenient, less intrusive and less of a time-suck than it is on a desktop. I will often respond to facebook inquiries/check status, etc. while sitting at my desk in front of my computer.

I expect FB will continue down this path. 4 million is a lot of eyeballs/early adopters…

Alan Chamberlain

Ian wrote: “With over 90% of the worlds 4 Billion users of mobile on similar Pay As You Go plans the influence of mobile internet is at present limited.”

I would expect the price of All You Can Eat to drop fast as more users start using the FB and other mobile social media apps.

Wish there was a mobile client for the old Palm Treo. Probably have to migrate to iPhone at some point, but I do love my Palm. The Pre looks great, but it’s a Verizon exclusive and my plan’s ATT.

–Ax

long island girl

this will surely be a great challenge for facebook. I can see that they can be able to achieve these goals as long as they make a lot of effort on meeting the people’s best interest. Features must be updated.

phil barrett

while they are at it… they need to figure out a better way of getting group and fanpage updates. it’s no wonder most groups have little to no activity… and my favorite pages are buried on my profile page.

Dereck

Yes, I also don’t like to hang around Facebook. I feel it’s one of the worst time to spend time on net. On the other hand mobile application might improve such things.

Ian

Om is this an age thing?

I have two teenage daughters who are facebook and mobile users, however as they are on Pay As You Go plans they do not use the mobile web. Too expensive for them to do so.

With over 90% of the worlds 4 Billion users of mobile on similar Pay As You Go plans the influence of mobile internet is at present limited.

When it comes to social networking on mobile my daughters do so via bluetooth and SMS which limits the options for Facebook that they use to organise things. This is still true when you look at the actions of youngsters in Japan or Europe who arrange things more in the manner of a FlashMob because the user group is more easy to control than on Facebook.

I have worked in Mobile in Europe since 1985 as an Economist and watch trends for me the interesting thing is that more and more users are duel SIM and more are downscaling to a low cost handset than up to a smartphone. This fact means that development of a mobile web strategy needs to be undertaken carefully. Llook at the plans for mobile banking in the US; and you see that Wells Fargo have some 28 different products dependent on the customers needs and device.

NeoTechie

Mobile computing is the wave of the future.

Our lives are complicated and busy. Mobile
computing facilitates our chaotic lifestyles.

Dave Levy

I actually sometimes prefer the mobile version of Facebook (the WAP version at m.facebook.com, making me archaic), which has done some clever things that have gone under the radar. For example, among the direct links is a link to your phonebook, cataloging the battery of cell numbers your friends have uploaded. (I caught a screen shot of this and wrote about it last month here: http://www.mostlikelytodiealone.com/2009/01/on-utility-facebook-style.html)

I liked that you brought up the “real-world relationships” point, but I think it’s less about sticking to Facebook to get those Sunday evening plans done. I think making the utility to get directly in touch with friends from your phone, though, correlates better to making the social connection Facebook desires.

Sanjeev Mishra

At one point of time, everything will be on mobile because that is the most common thing (having connectivity) which we always carry with us

Dave McCormack

I never really used Facebook all that much until I tried out the BlackBerry client. What an epiphany! All of a sudden the whole thing came alive and became very useful. In particular the ability to share the moment instantly with a geo-tagged photo upload is killer. The ability of a mobile client to make a service relevant is even more true of Twitter. After all, unless you’re tweeting on-the-go, the Twitter question should really be “What WERE you doing?”

Marc Siry

I’m with you, Om. I prefer to use my iPhone for Facebook as well- partially, I think, because it just feels more natural to interact with the service using gestures and swipes than with a keyboard and a mouse.

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