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
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.”

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