It is hard to knock a company looking set to debut in the public markets with a $100 billion valuation and 845 million friends, but if we did, Facebook’s mobile technology is an easy target. Put simply: Facebook’s app just doesn’t work very well.
Apple iOS users and Google Android users both complain. It doesn’t load at worst. At best it is slow and jerky.
This would seem like an easy fix, and why wouldn’t Facebook just do it? They have the funds to invest. Mobile matters, of course, when you’re business is connecting people and content, real-time.
But then think of the underlying complexity. Facebook is relaying us a lot of information very quickly. Some these data spurts are trivial; some aren’t. Feeds of all sorts of shapes and sizes that are changing constantly. Elegant apps tend to be much more simple in what they actually deliver us. Facebook likely faces a real challenge here.
So perhaps a deep mobile understanding is one of the things Mark Zuckerberg sought out in spending what seems like a tremendous sum, $1 billion, on the photo sharing app Instagram.
Sure, the company didn’t have revenues, which on the surface makes the $1 billion valuation laughable and perhaps the surest sign yet techland is frothing. But talent is expensive in Silicon Valley these days and competition is fierce. Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s CEO, really knows mobile and specifically sharing on mobile. His big goal for Instagram as he put it to Digg founder Kevin Rose was to the place where you could “tune into anything on Earth”. Instagram’s success so far has been thanks to a fine combination of technology know-how and the right attention product detail. Those are highly prized skills right now.
Already we are spending a fifth of our Facebook day just commenting on other people’s photos, per the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Photos are a core part of the Facebook experience, and perhaps the starting point for a revamp of the site’s mobile approach.
And so Zuckerberg nailed down one of the smartest guys in a category Facebook has struggled to perfect. He has also prevented other rivals, notably Google and then Twitter, from grabbing that same talent. Will this deal look cheap in two years? Probably, if Facebook works on your phone.