I’ve written before that successful social networks are geared towards encouraging sharing. In its desktop mode, Facebook achieved this by virtue of simplicity and a default group of circles. But in the mobile space it is struggling and I think I know the reason why. There are two broad activities that make a social network: sharing and reading.
Now Facebook actually have mastered the second on mobile apps. I realised this as I downloaded Google’s new Google+ app for the iPhone (interestingly available there but not yet available on Android). It is really slick and at the same time it is really horrible for reading lots of posts. Basically, it fits a summary of one and a half per screen. Fortunately there aren’t lots of posts so this shouldn’t prove a constraint but given their aspirations, this is an issue. The best reading apps are the Twitter ones but Twitter has the advantage of the 140 character limit. Facebook has some limits too and so can fit in more but what it does that Google doesn’t is not waste space. Nonetheless, on the mobile device, the Facebook app works out just fine for reading.
It is when it comes to sharing that things get harder. The main issue is that you need to share from the app. This is fine if you want to share a quick update or perhaps a check-in but it is harder for photos and prohibitive for links. Now if you are reading a story in an app with Facebook integration, you can probably share easily but each one of these requires verification. It is far from seamless.
Compare this with Twitter in its ‘baked into iOS’ form. I can tweet from anywhere on the phone and I don’t have to login again. I can take a picture and share it instantly. If I am reading a webpage, it can be tweeted in nanoseconds. In comparison, Facebook is positively clunky. (I’m operating under an assumption that Google+ will eventually be baked into Android although given its many variants, it is hard to know).
The notion that Facebook has failed to capture mobile sharing is clearly what is behind the Instagram purchase. That is an app which succeeded where Facebook failed. It demonstrates that a click or two can make all the difference. But herein lies the problem for Facebook. To really capitalise on sharing, it needs to be backed into a mobile OS. One option is to go the Twitter route. There were rumours of this with the iPhone but it didn’t happen. Another would be to build is own mobile OS, modify an Android one or perhaps move forward with Microsoft but all those would have far less in market share than Facebook’s aspirational 100%. Finally, it could bake itself in app by app like it has now with photos. But that seems limited compared to a deep integration with an operating system and a single verified login.
My point is that while it works out a solution to the mobile sharing problem, there is a vulnerability to Facebook. As sharing moves from desktops to mobile devices, that is where the content is coming from that will support reading and it is reading where the ads will surely be.