Can’t resist writing about Facebook: Mobile is as mobile does

Alongside all of the media excitement about today’s Facebook IPO, there is plenty of concern about the company’s ability to deliver profits that will justify its new valuation, especially as more of its eyeballs are coming from mobile devices instead of desktop computers. Facebook itself identified this risk in its SEC filing, noting that its mobile software currently generates no “meaningful revenue.”

The challenge of mobile devices to the Facebook revenue model is clear. At the simplest level, mobile device screens are just smaller than desktop screens, which means it’s harder to show ads to users on a web site without blocking their view of their friends’ updates. In addition, the Facebook mobile app for iPhone, according to Bloomberg’s Tech Blog, doesn’t show any ads at all, meaning even less money for Mr. Zuckerberg and his new eager shareholders.

I don’t think this is a case of Facebook not “getting” mobile, as Nick Bilton from the New York Times recently concluded. Facebook clearly “gets” mobile technology, and has famously developed a flexible and efficient strategy for delivering the Facebook experience on the web to almost every mobile device on the planet. What they (and many other companies) haven’t “got” yet is how to make money from mobile technology.

As we learned in the last tech bubble, it’s surprisingly hard to turn eyeballs into cash. For example, there’s this suggestion from ReadWriteMobile, for “location-aware push notification based on your interest graph”:

For instance, I like sports, I am passing a sports bar that is offering happy-hour specials, I get a push notification. Facebook makes money, the location makes money, I get beer. Everyone is happy. 

Of course (as someone close to me has observed), the sports bar could just put a sign in the window advertising the happy hour. Much simpler (and probably cheaper).

Whatever the logic of this sort of solution, I expect to see lots of experiments like this from Zuckerberg & co. in the weeks and months to come. Should be interesting…


The rise and fall of the magazine app

Technology Review built an iPad app, and now regrets it. Editor in Chief Jason Pontin tells the story, from great expectations to sad disappointment, and predicts that other publishers will follow the lead of the Financial Times (and Boston Globe) and embrace the web. He concludes that the “paid, expensively developed publishers’ app, with its extravagantly produced digital replica, is dead.”

Key quote:

We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.

This appears to be mostly a failure of the app business model, and to a lesser extent the limitations of native app development. On the business side, the revenues never made up for the cost of development, especially with Apple taking 30% off the top. On the technology side, what’s interesting is that TR readers appear to value what Jason calls “the linky-ness of the Web” over the prettiness of the app. In other words, looks are, apparently, not everything, even on the iPad.

Take the multitasking challenge

Steve Litchfield from All About Symbian has a challenge for you; he’s laid out a series of relatively common tasks, and wants to know whether you can complete them in less time than the 53 seconds he demonstrates on his trusty Nokia E6 (Symbian, QWERTY keyboard).

I don’t think I’ll get to 53 seconds on my Android device (T-Mobile Exhibit), but the pull-down status bar in Android menu makes many functions, like checking email, very quick indeed.

How did you do?