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Will the Next Facebook Begin on a Mobile Platform?

  |  September 21, 2012   |  Comments

Do Facebook's missteps with mobile leave an opening for a new, mobile-focused company to come along and begin to steal market share?

Let's all just agree that there will be a next Facebook. I'm not predicting its eminent demise, but history has proven that even the most dominant players eventually fall. Just ask the British or Mongol Empires, which at one time ruled 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively, of the world's population. Our present day social media juggernaut, Facebook, is getting close to these numbers with 15 percent of the world's population on its platform.

With this kind of dominance, it seems people will always be looking to find the next David to take on this Goliath. So, when we see Facebook stumble because of its privacy policy issues, problems with its early ad platform Beacon, struggles to create a good mobile experience, and failure to meet Wall Street expectations, you start to hear stories about how Facebook is dying and more importantly whether someone else will be able to rise up and become a leader.

The chink in the armor I want to explore is Facebook's missteps with mobile. I believe this leaves the biggest opening for a new, mobile-focused company to come along and begin to steal market share. I know, cue the thousands of articles that talk about designing for mobile first. I'm guilty of harping on this as well. I wouldn't say design for mobile first, I would say screw the desktop altogether and only design for the phone. The desktop should not be viewed as the engagement point, but rather as a simple view into your friends' and families' activities.

The numbers on smartphone penetration are staggering. According to Flurry Analytics, as of July 2012, 78 percent of 15 to 64 year olds in the U.S. now have a smartphone device. So smartphones are nearly ubiquitous and with people now spending 94 minutes per day on mobile applications as opposed to just 72 minutes spent online through a desktop or mobile browser, the device is now the primary connection.

Of course, the usage of social media on mobile is not something new but, for the first time in three years, social has pulled even with gaming in the amount of time people spend with applications, and pulled even by having a 60 percent increase year-over-year. Again, not surprising as more than half of Facebook users access the site through their mobile device and 20 percent use it as the sole engagement point. This is why Facebook has us all continually scratching our heads over why it hasn't been more proactive in having the best mobile experience. It seems Facebook has finally woken up and this may be attributed to the fact that Wall Street seems to be penalizing it for its weak mobile roadmap. Although, to be fair, investors are more worried over the lack of monetization on the mobile platform.

So, can platforms like Path, which are focused around mobile, continue to gain traction, or will they simply be large acquisition targets for the likes of Google and Facebook? Neither company is afraid to purchase in areas in which they are perceived to be weak. In the last 12 months, Facebook purchased both Gowalla and Instagram. Gowalla was purchased for its "technology teams" to try and build out Places, which quietly turned into status updates. Instagram, on the other hand, is being left alone for the time being to operate independently. It will be interesting to see, if a great mobile social network does come along, whether it can gain in popularity fast enough to hold off a purchase from either of these companies.

Another interesting area for mobile social networks is the built-in operating systems on the devices. Apple, Android, and Windows Mobile have all leveraged APIs from the major social networks in different ways to make pushing social content a simple, smooth experience. In fact, it is so integrated that in some cases it removes the need to even go directly to the social media destinations. This begs the question whether, if a new platform came along that had such interesting hooks for operating system developers to play with and incorporate, could that platform steal market share by simply being integrated holistically into smartphone experiences?

Although currently there is not a clear David to supplant the Facebook Goliath, I believe the key may lie within the mobile experience. However, as for the near future, I highly doubt Google or Facebook will allow any new platform to gain widespread traction without overpaying to try and gain or keep market share.

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Paul Schoknecht

As digital experience director at JWT Atlanta, Paul drives digital strategy and user experience for clients including U.S. Marine Corps, FEMA, Shell, Jiffy Lube, Transamerica, and U.S. Virgin Islands across the digital spectrum of web, mobile, social, gaming, and media. His passion for the space and his ability to translate current trends into marketing applications helps the brands that he works with stay at the forefront of innovation. His team leads the digital activation process across all clients from inception through the creative execution process to reporting.

Paul is a Chicago native who has led JWT's digital efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Prior to joining JWT he worked with several leading agencies in Southern California where he led digital initiatives for clients including Anheuser-Busch, Sony Pictures, Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Sprint/Nextel, and Symantec.

Paul currently lives in Atlanta with his wife and two daughters.

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