Mark Zuckerberg gave a long interview to Mike Arrington at Techcrunch yesterday (full transcript here) and whilst most of the commentary is about whether Facebook is or isn’t building a phone to me the most interesting thing is the range and extent of development Facebook feels it needs to undertake to get the features they want to as much of their user base as possible.
Zuckerberg described Facebook’s goal as “trying to make every app social whether it’s on the web, or mobile, or other devices”. This means two things – deep integration with apps and reaching out to as many devices as possible.
On the deep integration side Facebook wants to ‘make every app social’ but without making it ‘crazy from a UX perspective’ which means persistent login to Facebook and automatic integration with Facebook when you open the app. The only way to do this really well is deep integration with the OS – and from this perspective the open source Android platform is far more attractive than any of the alternatives, which is one of Arrington’s big takeaways from the interview.
There are of course many more people who don’t have Android phones than do, and Facebook isn’t neglecting them. Zuckerberg says Facebook is putting more investment into the iPhone than any other platform at this point, and if Windows 7 takes off then they will put resources on that. Further, they have people ‘working on lowest common denominator HTML5 stuff that works across all systems’, and finally ‘maybe we’re not building a lot of specific stuff for RIM and Blackberry, but the HTML5 stuff we’re doing will work there’ (emphasis mine).
Zuckerberg goes on to explain that as well as building specific apps for Android and iPhone they’ll also build integration into the OS, for the reason explained above, whilst for other less popular platforms they might only build an app, or only offer an HTML5 solution.
That is a lot of platform specific development, and towards the end of the interview Zuckerberg indicates how difficult it is, even for a company the size of Facebook:
We’re working on Questions, and it’s like OK. So we build Questions for the web, then we build the “m” site for Questions, then we build the Touch HTML5 version of questions. Then we build the iPhone version of Questions, and then the Android version, and then maybe.. (Elliot Schrage: iPad…) Right, the iPad stuff. And then we don’t work on a RIM version and then a bunch of people are pissed because it’s not available on their phone.
It’s kind of a disaster right now. I really hope that the direction that this stuff goes in is one where there’s more of a standard
Amen to that.
If mobile fragmentation is difficult for Facebook it is verging on disastrous for startups. For the last couple of years the success of the iPhone has made the mobile world less fragmented. The tide has now turned back the other way.