Facebook’s Mobile Problem Isn’t Ads — It’s The Product
In a well-circulated New York Times article, Jenna Wortham notes that Facebook doesn’t make any money from mobile. Despite a ton of mobile users — about half of its 845 million monthly users — it’s going to be a significant challenge for Facebook to build a mobile business that’s nearly as good as its web business.
The more immediate problem, I’d say, is that Facebook’s mobile product is rather boring today.
Its current iOS app is basically a chopped-up version of its website, but not in a way that’s particularly interesting. I’ve been a full-on Facebook addict at my Mac since 2004, but not on my phone or iPad. Photos are small in the news feed, pretty much everything needs to open up and load in a new window, and it’s just not very fun. When I have time to waste with my phone, my first choices are always Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, and the App Store — Facebook is always an afterthought.
Maybe the mix of people I follow on Twitter and Instagram is just more interesting and funnier than the “real friends” I try to limit my Facebook feed to? (Sorry, real friends!) But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I think Facebook just isn’t very inventive these days when it comes to mobile.
What should Facebook on my phone be like? What would be more interesting? I confess I don’t have the answer to that, so I feel a little whiny here. If I did, I’d probably be building it, or at least shipping a wireframe off to Mark Zuckerberg with my job application. But I’ll know it when I see it. And so far, I’m not seeing it.
My hope is that Facebook has been pushing out small updates to its current mobile apps because it’s working on a much deeper vision for mobile, which is taking a lot longer. Zuckerberg just seems too ambitious for this not to be the case. And it’s not like Facebook is doing poorly at mobile in the meantime, or facing any crazy competition. It’s just not demanding my attention the way I’d like it to.
Even though I’m holding a higher bar for Facebook, I don’t think I’m asking too much. As I’ve said a number of times, as web usage gradually shifts toward mobile devices, Facebook’s biggest risk is that a mobile-first or mobile-only competitor will show up and steal our time.
As the incumbent, Facebook has many advantages, such as our friend connections, name recognition, photos, carrier deals, and years of data. But I probably could have said most of those things about Friendster at one point. So let’s see something more exciting!