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There are two sets of rules for the Internet these days. Those for Facebook, and those for everybody else. Take mobile — most publishers are pouring their energy into apps in the hopes that the marketing muscle of Apple will draw in new users. Facebook, meanwhile, has 250 million users of its mobile site — no need for an app.
This past Friday, Facebook made major changes to its mobile website that give a lot of insight into how it’s thinking well beyond the app. Gone are the days of maintaining multiple mobile websites for each device. While this has the greatest impact for feature phone users, smug smartphone users will soon find that their “app for that” is becoming less and less useful.
To be sure, Facebook still plays the app game. It has an app for each of the major mobile platforms, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, et al. In nearly all of the stores the app has stayed at the top of the free list since it was launched. Some say Facebook is the top reason to get a smartphone in the first place. But these apps all provide features that Facebook already has established with their users. It is clearly stepping away from the fragmentation of apps for specific devices when their mobile website can do all that and more.
For many people, Facebook is the web. Having the power that a committed user base like that brings a company like Facebook means it doesn’t have to play ball with app stores, or many companies really. What’s that you say? There are features that a mobile website can’t offer that an app can? Facebook has those beat. You’ve been receiving notifications through email or text for years regarding every update you want to be notified of and you can actually modify which ones you receive, unlike on the native apps. Photo uploading? Facebook provides each user with a personal email address to send the pictures to and you can even send multiple at a time, saving yourself the trouble of uploading each individual image. Oh, and you can actually edit your profile, manage pages and other groups you’re an admin of, and pretty much every important feature of the main website that seems to be lacking from the apps, all from the mobile site.
While there’s no plan for advertising on the mobile Facebook site yet, the reality is it will come at some point and Facebook is going to want full control over it. The limitations that an app store would impose regarding the type of advertising that Facebook hosts is not something that Facebook has to deal with. You won’t see Mark Zuckerberg pandering to Steve Jobs. If Facebook decide to remove all its apps from the iTunes tomorrow, people wouldn’t stop using Facebook, they would switch over to whatever it offers so that they can access their social network.
On the web, Facebook is king. It goes to show that in mobile too, it’s good to be the king.
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