Why Facebook's Future Is Mobile

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.