Facebook to write "new chapter" of its mobile strategy

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Facebook is going to go beyond rolling out standalone applications for iPhones, Google Android devices or feature phones and start considering itself a platform for developers to distribute mobile apps with.

“Where we’re going from here is a platform strategy. We’re going away from a one-off app strategy,” said Erick Tseng in his first public appearance since joining Facebook as head of mobile products. Speaking at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference today, he said the company will start building out this effort over the next several months.

“We want to provide mobile developers with all the goodness of the open graph,” he said. Such a move would parallel what Facebook has done for the non-mobile web with a platform that now supports more than 550,000 applications and 1 million developers.

Tseng pointed to location as one area where social features could strengthen user experience. “If you can actually layer on top of [location] some kind of social intelligence — not just the fact that I’m near Starbucks, but the fact that 30 of my friends really like this frappuccino over the last couple months — I’ve got an interesting use case,” he said.

Part of a mobile platform strategy could include making app discovery and distribution more social, he said. But he declined to comment on whether Facebook had been in discussions with app store operators like Apple or Google to add such social features.

He did say that, “Inevitably, app stores will become more social. As we get more apps, that’s going to be great. But the average user isn’t going to go through thousands of apps on their phone.”

He also said that 150 million users now access Facebook through phones and that mobile devices are fueling its more recent growth globally.

“Mobile is fast-becoming our growth lever. As we begin to continue to expand, we’re starting to go into geographies where phones are the predominant way you access the web,” he said. “Mobile is a way we can get users to be aware of and engage with social services.”

Two months ago, Facebook launched 0, a free mobile version of the social network aimed at developing markets where there is limited access to the Internet. Today the company has agreements with 66 mobile operators in 56 developing countries to provide the service free of charge. Last week, the company signed agreements with Bharti Airtel in India and Beeline and MTS in Russia.

Tseng said that mobile operators in many of these newer markets have only recently added data services, so they’re using Facebook as a way to study how consumers use data. “We think this will lead to more growth for Facebook, and more data consumption worldwide,” he said.

Facebook also added a mobile-only sign-up flow for new users, because if a person wanted to sign up for the social network, they used to have to log on with a PC first. “We were blocking ourselves from getting millions of new users in countries like India,” he said.

Tseng brushed off rumors about a forthcoming rival social network from his old employer Google, where he led development of its Nexus One phone.

“We’ve set our own very ambitious internal goals and vision and if we do that, we’ll do best by our users,” he said. He also said the company wasn’t in any hurry to add advertisements to its mobile apps.


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