It’s the question that has dogged Facebook all year and likely contributed to its IPO fiasco: does Facebook (s fb) have a mobile problem? According to Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins, it does: but then so does every Internet company trying to figure out how to make money in the mobile landgrab.
During her latest presentation on the tech landscape at D: All Things Digital, Meeker pointed out that the factors that caused Facebook to warn investors about how increased mobile usage is changing its business model are universal. Mobile traffic now accounts for 10 percent of overall traffic and overall mobile revenue is surging, but companies built around desktop-web economics are scared by the fact that mobile ads are seen as far less valuable: five times less valuable than desktop Internet ads, Meeker said. And even companies that have figured out how to get users to actually pay them for their products–think Tencent and Zynga(s ZNGA)–are taking in far less revenue per mobile subscriber than per desktop subscriber.
That implies that companies born entirely of the mobile era might have an advantage, but not necessarily, as those companies haven’t really figured this out yet either. “It’s early,” Meeker said. “The screen is small and the ad units haven’t been rolled out effectively yet.”
Meeker reminded everyone, however, that we went through many of the same questions a decade ago amid the rubble of the dot-com bust. Companies like Google(s GOOG) and Facebook clearly figured out how to make real money off desktop Internet ads, and Meeker thinks that someone will come along that figures out how to do the same on mobile.
“The data in Japan proves that the users can be monetized,” she said, pointing to gaming companies like Gree and CyberAgent, who have seen strong growth in mobile revenue.
What supports her optimism? The mobile world is much more sophisticated and prepared for this transition than those who tried to monetize the desktop Web back in the 1990s, she said. With so many developers and business people focused so closely on mobile technology–and the fact that there are already so many people using smart mobile devices–at some point relatively soon someone will figure out how to connect the dots.