RealTime IT News

Facebook's on the Mobile Move

Facebook mobile
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Android, Google, Blackberry, iPhone, Nokia. There are plenty of mobile platforms and Facebook professes to love them all. At a media event here at Facebook headquarters on Tuesday, the social networking phenom laid out its ambitions in mobile and talked up its current efforts.

Those efforts include launching Facebook Connect for mobile last week and yesterday's announcement of Facebook for the Android platform of mobile devices. Facebook is already on the iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Nokia phones, among others.

Facebook officials say they'll have more platform announcements to make in the next few weeks.

"Mobile is a unique opportunity because you can have the device in your pocket, anywhere you go, which means there's an opportunity for new kinds of applications based on, for example, location," Facebook's director of mobile, Henri Moissinac, told InternetNews.com.

Moissinac's not alone in seeing big things ahead for mobile apps. A recent report by ABI Research predicted huge growth in cloud-based mobile applications, particularly location-based services.

Facebook's mobile team is relatively small, but it's grown quickly from what the company said was only a few people two years ago to 15 today. Facebook Mobile was launched in 2006 and the company said there are now over 65 million users worldwide.

Gareth Davis, a Facebook platform manager, said the social networking site's open platform has brought back a surge of smaller "garage" developers who can run with an idea without the barriers of traditional closed or walled-garden systems.

"Independent developers have some incredible ideas we'd never think of," he said. "And these can be people coding at night or as a side business at very low cost."

The iPhone, with over 65,000 applications, is the hottest platform for mobile developers right now. In terms of discovery, Facebook takes a different approach than Apple's App Store -- Davis said the company is committed to supporting the idea of social discovery among its users.

So, for example, he says Facebook has no plans to do "best seller" lists like the iPhone App Store does.

"We like social distribution," he said. "Sharing with friends you trust and go to for recommendations is best, not lists."

But Jeremiah Owyang, a partner and analyst at strategy and consulting firm Altimeter Group, said lists and independent editorial oversight can be useful to consumers and Facebook, with so many thousands of applications to choose from, might be making a mistake by not including such capabilities.

"Recommendations from people you know are helpful, but they can also just be more reinforcement of what you already like, so you're not being exposed to other types of applications you might find useful," he told InternetNews.com.

A bigger issue for Facebook, he said, is that a lot of mobile applications being developed are "disposable" -- they don't get used more than a few times because they don't have a lot of depth, like a simple game.

"It's important to Facebook to get more long-term experiences out there to build more loyalty to the platform," Owyang said. "It's a very immature market right now without a lot of business applications."

Still, Owyang added that he sees Facebook making the right moves elsewhere, like with Facebook Connect, which enables mobile, Web and PC app developers to tie their offerings into Facebook accounts and data.

"I like what they're doing with Facebook Connect for mobile because it really extends them beyond the Facebook.com domain," he said.