Facebook Gives Mobile the Platform Treatment

Facebook pulled the wraps off its new mobile platform Wednesday at a special event held at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. The offerings in the platform were designed to appeal to consumers, businesses and developers and to expand the reach of the social network’s geolocation technology, Places.

For many of the social network’s fans and followers, though, the event was a bust because the company did not announce a Facebook-branded mobile phone.

“There’s been this rumor floating around recently that Facebook is going to build a phone. What a novel idea — Facebook’s going to build a phone. Ah, no,” Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg told the gathering yesterday.

Requests by TechNewsWorld to interview Facebook executives about the new platform were unavailing.

Chief among the elements of Facebook’s new mobile platform is a shopping application called “Deals,” which will be offered only in the United States. It can be accessed from inside Facebook’s iPhone app or through touch.facebook.com. The service works like this:

When you open Facebook on the iPhone, you touch Places and Check In. A number of nearby retail locations will appear on the screen. If any merchants are offering deals, a yellow box will appear by their names. Tap the box and you’ll see the deal. To take advantage of it, just show your phone to the cashier at checkout.

Deal Hawkers Not Worried

In unleashing Deals, it seems Facebook is attempting to grab a share of the online deal market pioneered by outfits like Groupon and Scoop St. That market has become very lucrative for some of its players — in a single promotion for The Gap in August, for example, Groupon raked in US$11 million, according to AdAge.

“We don’t see it as a competitor,” Groupon spokesperson Julie Mossler told TechNewsWorld.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Scoop St. Founder David Ambrose. The online deal model differs from Facebook’s mobile version, he explained. “We need a certain number of people to sign up before a deal goes live,” he told TechNewsWorld. That threshold commitment is missing from the Facebook Deals, he said.

In addition, online deal makers deliver their coupons via email, while Facebook’s program is linked to a person’s location. “What we’ve seen over the last year is that email is the king of connecting people,” Ambrose asserted.

“What the Web is becoming is a provider of localized content that’s relevant to you,” he added. “Facebook moving more into the local space is great because it’s going to get more relevant content and more relevant information to consumers.”

Small-Business Boon

In addition to Deals, the new mobile platform includes:

  • Sign in once, browse many. Mobile Facebook users need only sign into the service once and they can access other sites without having to log in over and over again.
  • Access to Facebook Groups through both iPhone and Android apps.
  • Places access by the Android app.
  • Opening up Facebook’s local data and activity stream to third-party developers and publishers.

Opening up the data and activity stream will make it easier to develop localized apps for small businesses, according to Salman Ghaznavi, CEO of Avenue Social, a developer of apps for social networks.

“This will be a big feature for brands and small businesses,” he told TechNewsWorld.

That will be especially true when used in connection with Deals, he noted. Currently, it can be difficult for third-party developers to create coupon programs for businesses on Facebook. Deals should remove some of that friction to the creative process. “Facebook is giving this feature free to all page owners,” Ghaznavi explained. “It will allow us to create much, much better coupon applications for our clients.”

“Custom app development is very long and slow,” he added. “Now everything is within Facebook. It’s like plug and play.”

Another omission from the platform announcement that some Facebookers may have found disappointing was the introduction of an app for the iPad. When quizzed about the subject, CEO Zuckerberg’s reply was, “iPad’s not mobile. Next question. It’s not mobile, it’s a computer.”

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