If you could think of a single behavior that defines the zeitgeist our time, it would be the uploading of mobile phone pictures to Facebook.
This particular act -- and the convergence of social networking and mobile computing generally -- dominates the hard-core center of what’s happening in Silicon Valley right now. The reason is that sharing mobile photos has suddenly become central to people’s identity and how they connect with others.
As such, it’s the un-tapped marketing opportunity of the millennium.
That’s why it’s weird that big social networks in general, and Facebook in particular, have failed to create a good mobile experience for users -- or a sustainable way to monetize mobile. It hasn’t been a priority -- until now. It shouldn’t be so complicated or take so long. At the very least, there are two major all-purpose social networks (Facebook and Google+) and two major mobile platforms (iOS and Android). The Apple iPad utterly dominates the tablet scene, so at minimum Facebook and Google should be concerned with the iPad.
Given the centrality and importance of mobile social networking, Facebook and Google should have totally compelling apps for iPhones, iPads and Android phones.
Yet both these companies have failed to get anywhere near this all-important goal.
What’s Wrong with Mobile Social Networks
Facebook’s iOS and Android apps are a disaster visually, functionally and, above all, architecturally.
Mobtest, which is a site that brings together app developers and test volunteers, featured a post written by the site’s creator, Dirk de Kok, about “why the Facebook iOS app is so bad.”
By “bad,” de Kok means the app is slow, provides inconsistent information and is crawling with bugs. According to his tests, the problem is that the architecture is a kludgy mishmash of awkwardly implemented technologies and standards.
At its core, the Facebook app uses HTML and other technologies from inside the app, and does so in a way that assures glitches and problems.
Although de Kok analyzed only the iOS app, the Android app is similar.
There are two other problems with the Facebook app for both iOS and Android. First, it’s ugly. That’s subjective, but compared with so many beautiful apps coming on the market, including social apps like Path, it looks to me like a throwback to a bygone era.
But the Mother of All Problems with the Facebook mobile apps is that it fails to monetize Facebook. Facing a hotly anticipated iPO on Friday, this is a huge problem because a growing majority of Facebook usage now happens via mobile devices.
Desktop access is a semi-monetized medium, and mobile is a conspicuously under-monetized one. Following the trend lines, Facebook has got to figure out how to get money from mobile or face declining revenues.
Right now, the model is advertising, and it’s not working. GM plans to stop advertising on Facebook because they reportedly believe the network is an ineffective advertising medium. Expect other major advertisers to follow.
The Solution? Better Mobile Apps
Facebook knows they’ve got a problem. That’s why the company has been in a mad scramble to convince the world in time for Friday’s IPO that Facebook mobile has an appealing and monetizable future.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this week that the company’s top priority is to improve the mobile apps. And Zuck is putting his money where his mouth is.