Don't expect a better mobile Facebook experience anytime soon

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: May 10, 2012

Any given day, I can peruse my Facebook News Feed and find more than a few friends complaining about their Facebook experience via mobile. "Facebook for iPhone sucks! You would think a company as large as Facebook could afford a decent iOS developer. Fix this, Facebook!" Facebook for Android gets just as many like-minded complaints, if not more. And regressing to the mobile Web page usually doesn't fare much better.

Consistently, regardless of operating system, Facebook apps are the slowest, most nerve wracking applications on all of my devices. They are slow to launch, slow to load my News Feed, slow to refresh, slow to show updated comments on pictures, etc. While the application design has come a long way over the past couple years, the experience is pretty much the same: makes-you-want-to-yank-your-teeth-out poor.

As Nick Bilton of The New York Times' Bits reports, though, that's not likely to change anytime soon. Facebook Says, Lower Your Expectations About Mobile is the title of Bilton's article yesterday and he explains that Facebook amended its public offering prospectus, yet again, "to note that it is showing fewer ads per user on the site because of its lack of mobile advertising." This is the sixth amendment to the document since February and part of it reads:

"In March 2012, we began to include sponsored stories in users’ mobile News Feeds. However, we do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven. We believe this increased usage of Facebook on mobile devices has contributed to the recent trend of our daily active users (DAUs) increasing more rapidly than the increase in the number of ads delivered."

In simpler terms, Facebook is stating that mobile applications have generated more daily active users. However, since mobile applications do not throw ads in your face like the billboard that is the desktop site, they do not generate any (significant) revenue from them. And Facebook is essentially saying they don't know how to fix this quite yet – they can't serve enough ads or sponsored posts to smartphones without completely ruining the experience.

"Here an ad, there an ad, everywhere an ad ad. Except on Facebook’s mobile app, that is," says Bilton. In the long run, this could pose quite a few hurdles for Facebook. More and more cell phone customers are purchasing smartphones and accessing all of their Facebook activity via mobile, leaving their computers at home off for days and weeks at a time. If they make the mobile experience any better, more users will abandon Facebook activity from their desktops. And if Facebook can't find a reliable way to serve ads to their mobile products, their tight grip on monstrous revenues will being to slip.

It's a balancing act, though. If Facebook cannot manage to find a viable monetization strategy for mobile in the near future, someone else will, which could ultimately be the beginning of the end of Facebook. Mobile is the future and they know that as well as anyone. As Bilton notes, Facebook mentions "mobile" 171 times in their prospectus. But they're playing their next move safe and slow.

Personally, I do as little Facebooking via mobile as possible. It's not because I prefer the desktop site, however. If I could use only mobile, I would. But, currently, the applications are almost unbearable. You won't hear me complaining too much, though. I would much rather Facebook get it right the first time than to sacrifice users' mobile experiences for a few more dollars in their already deep pockets with some inconveniently placed ads. (Just imagine one of those full-screen ads popping up after every comment your make or status you post.)

Mobile is the future, but it isn't imperative that they go all-in on it ... yet. The first of many initiatives to come is in Facebook App Center, which was announced yesterday evening. Facebook App Center is a centralized location where users will be able to find applications that integrate Facebook APIs. Facebook will also sell cross-platform HTML5 applications, among other things. Unlike App Store and Google Play, though, this isn't about the money they will make off app sales, but users' activities within those apps.

Have you, too, noticed Facebook's nonchalant attitude towards their poorly implemented mobile applications? One way or another, ads are coming to their mobile apps. At the risk of their own demise, would you rather see an army of noticeably better Facebook mobile applications (with poorly placed ads) now? Or would you rather wait until they have a well-rounded monetization strategy for mobile?