RealTime IT News

Facebook: Let The Devs Have At It

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wireless network operators are finally starting to see the upside of their painful network upgrades and massive investments in data services. But it's time to change or die, according to one of those damned Internet whippersnappers.

Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz took the stage at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show today with stern advice for his elders.

If the wireless telcos don't open their networks to all devices and applications, they're in danger of being replaced by ever-smaller PCs connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi.

Mobile phones and mobile PCS are certainly converging. The latest generation of phones on display at the conference run applications, play music and video, enable multiple ways of communicating and connect to the Web via closed network, Moskovitz said. Micro-PCs now fit in your pocket, doing all that and connecting to the Web via open networks.

"The device that sat on your desk five years ago now fits in your pocket," he said.

He neglected to mention old-fashioned phone calls, something PCs can only facilitate via buggy VoIP apps and headsets. This omission perhaps points out as well as anything the generational disconnect between Gen-i and everyone who won't see 23 again.

But Facebook has moved way beyond the realm of college kids. Today, the majority of the active user base is not college age, and over 35 is the fastest-growing segment.

Indeed, nearly half the audience raised their hands when he asked for a show of Facebook users. The site's photo-sharing application is the largest on the Web, and the company expects 4 million active users of its mobile products this year.

To meet that demand, Facebook is looking at major opportunities in internal and third-party mobile applications. Today, Moskovitz announced a partnership with Research in Motion, one of the granddaddies of mobile applications providers.

RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis demonstrated integration between the BlackBerry service and Facebook. It takes advantage of the BlackBerry push technology to let users quickly send photos or blog posts to their Facebook profiles, while sending back comments and messages.

"We've integrated what's best about both the platforms to create something quite special," Lazaridis told the CTIA audience.

Moskovitz said that in working with the Facebook mobile team and talking to carriers about enabling third-party data applications, "There's a striking resemblance to problems we face in our own platform."

It's arduous and often impossible for wireless application developers to get their apps approved for carrier networks. And it's close to impossible for any company, with the notable exception of something like Disney, to get their apps on deck, which is where they are immediately available to subscribers.

Moskovitz contrasted that with the wired Web, where consumer choice is endless, and developers can quickly send things to market.

For example, when Facebook rolled out a new developer platform in May it came with new applications that more than 65 developer partners created. Some of these apps are driving significant usage.

Google, the goliath of any market it enters, has been pushing for the open access model. It said it would participate in the January 2008 spectrum auction if the FCC would stipulate that consumers could connect any legal devices and run any legal application on the network. The search giant also wants the FCC to license the 700MHZ spectrum that's up for grabs for wholesale access and allow third parties, such as ISPs, to interconnect at any technically feasible point on the network.

Moskovitz warned that in 2008, Google and Apple will force the open-access issue. Apple will release a developers' toolkit for the iPhone, while Google … Moskovitz paused dramatically before concluding, "It's going to be big, and my bet is, it's going to be open."

Moskovitz's solution -- for operators to be satisfied with being intelligent pipes -- is a strategy operators have resisted since the dawn of the wireless Internet. But the time is now, he told the audience.

"There are thousands of developers who will create applications for the first platform that will let them."