Apps key for Facebook

30 November 2012

NEW YORK: Facebook, the social network, believes mobile apps are likely to provide the "next wave of big innovation", and offer considerable opportunities to deepen user engagement.

"At the risk of sounding cliché, it seems really clear to me that building mobile social apps is the next wave of big innovation," Mike Vernal, Facebook's director of engineering, told Wired. "We're 1% done. It's really early."

He suggested gaming and relatively basic sharing tools used to be Facebook's major strength, but this year has bought a "huge increase in diversity" in the most popular apps across both PC and mobile.

"The biggest apps are much more beyond games," Vernal said. "It's things like Instagram on the photo-sharing side of things, it's things like Spotify and Rdio on the music sharing side of things, it's things like Netflix and Hulu on the video side of things, it's things like Nike+ or Endomondo on the fitness and running side of things."

Such a shift reflects a change in Facebook's own strategy, as it endeavours to let members share information like articles they have read, a film they have seen or an activity they have participated in.

"We've definitely become biased toward longer form," said Vernal. "The storytelling value of a book you spent five hours reading, or a two hour movie you watched on Netflix is just so much greater than an article you spent 30 seconds reading or a 20-second YouTube clip."

Facebook is thus trying to give users tools to tell "richer and richer stories about their lives", as well as to discover material matching their interests, from books to tourist attractions.

Another core goal this year has been to enhance its mobile platform, not least to more accurately respond to the differing habits of this audience compared with that on PCs.

"Mobile apps lend themselves to more frequent use throughout the day," said Vernal. "On the desktop side of things you see a lot more people going back to their computer and maybe doing stuff in bulk, catching up for the day."

By contrast, PCs yield better results when it comes to discovering apps, as Facebook's mobile visitors often end up "scrolling endlessly" on their newsfeed, meaning apps need to be flagged via this route.

While Facebook launched its own App Center in June, its aim is not solely to match the size of similar properties run by Apple and Google, but to best serve its users.

"I think we are doing a pretty good job of it on mobile. We are driving something like 180m clicks per month to the app stores. It's complementary to them," Vernal said.

Data sourced from Wired; additional content by Warc staff