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Facebook phones and the future of mobile communication

Frank Meehan, who built integrated communications platforms at INQ Mobile/Three in the mid-2000s:

We had a lot of early success…because in 2008/2009 most people just used a handful of key internet communication centric services. Facebook, MSN Messenger, Skype etc dominated. So integrating just those services was such a useful step that people loved what we did, and didn’t need more.

But in 2013, there are a plethora of options, and people want instant access to the service of the moment. The flexibility of iOS and Native Android gives people that. If something like Snapchat or Viber or Whisper or whatever suddenly becomes central to your comms, then you want it on the home screen. And when inevitably, it gets replaced by the latest fad, again you want the flexibility to change.

I don’t agree with everything in this article – specifically, the Samsung pieces – but there is something here that is spot on and hints at a larger truth about Facebook in particular. Specifically:

Facebook is an app, not a platform.1

An app can afford to be prescriptive about the user experience and means of interaction; in fact, the best apps have a point of view on how the user ought to use their service.

Platforms, on the other hand, are just that: a stage for actors (i.e. apps) of the user’s choosing to create a wholly unique experience that is particular for every individual user.

It follows, of course, that no successful platform can be built on advertising.2 Advertising demands eyeballs; platform success demands the ability to fade into the background as said unique experiences take center stage.

I’m not sure an app is worth $64 billion.3

  1. At least on mobile; Facebook is the last great PC company
  2. Note the lack of advertising on Android. I do think Google sees Android as a success for reasons beyond money-making, however
  3. Facebook’s market cap as of May 14, 2013

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