The Key to Facebook's Mobile Strategy: Smaller Apps

By Trevor Gilbert , written on July 4, 2012

From The News Desk

There’s been a lot of talk about what Facebook will do with its iOS application in the future. There’s talk of a redesign, but there’s no word from the company on what the redesign will actually look like. In fact, the only information out there is that the application is “faster” and that it is written in Objective-C to run natively on the iPhone.

One question that was bugging me, though, is what will happen to all of the other Facebook applications when Facebook redesigns the main application. I’m talking about Messenger, Camera, and Pages Manager. These applications have become popular because they run faster, and they give iOS users the ability to jump right into the part of Facebook they want to use.

They’re popular, but what does that mean for their future? After all, if it’s about speed, then the new Facebook application should work fine, and these other applications won’t need to be supported anymore. More importantly, what’s the point of these applications at all?

As we’ve learned from a well placed source, Facebook’s goal for these applications is entirely logistical. The main Facebook application is apparently so huge, that making even the slightest product changes to a small part, like the Photos area, means that the entire application needs to be debugged. Regardless of what part of the system you are improving, you need to make sure that the rest of the system doesn’t break.

This is part of the reason why Facebook went with HTML5 to begin. It wasn’t some grand experiment to hurt users, but rather, the goal was to be able iterate quickly without going through the normal App Store review process.

With the smaller applications, teams can quickly experiment with new designs and features on a smaller scale. If the features prove to be popular enough, they can then be pushed into the main application. If they aren’t popular, or if they’re buggy, the team can quickly iterate upon them.

What Facebook is essentially doing is taking the normal startup methodology of iteration, and applying it to a gigantic piece of software.

What this means for users is that there will likely be a number of new “micro-Facebook applications” that focus on one area of the user experience. These will have the most cutting edge designs to them, and will be updated much quicker. Instead of waiting weeks to test out the main Facebook application, a small team can improve and fix the product within days.

Not to get preachy on anyone, but there’s one other company that could learn to think like this: Apple. If you think of the Facebook application like the center of Facebook, and the iTunes store as the center of Apple, then there are distinct similarities. If iTunes was to be broken up and made faster, Apple would be able to iterate quickly upon the product. It’s not clear if that’s in the works, but it certainly makes sense.

One additional piece of speculation that makes sense is that, as Facebook tries to figure out how to monetize its mobile strategy, the experimental monetization will likely take place within these smaller applications. Since these apps have a smaller userbase, any backlash will be minimized, and the revenue stream can be adjusted quickly and easily. It’s not clear if that’s in the works, but it would certainly make sense for the company.

So there’s one lesson to be learned here: don’t ignore the small products. They’re the holders of the future.