When will Facebook give us an iPhone app that does something remarkable? Here’s one idea.

September 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

Mobile future of facebookLast week, Facebook released the latest iteration of their popular iPhone app. While the user experience is significantly improved, the Facebook app sadly remains little more than a miniaturized version of the Facebook website. This “lazy” approach to mobile app development certainly isn’t unique to Facebook.  iTunes is littered with apps that merely mimic consumer websites, thus failing to offer brand experiences particular to the iPhone and its unique modes of use. (One notable exception is the Amazon iPhone app, which offers Amazon Remembers,  an assisted shopping service specifically designed for mobility and iPhone functionality.)

What’s perhaps most disappointing about Facebook’s approach is that they have been slow to develop new services that take advantage of the wealth of in situ user-reported data about our activities, moods, and behaviors.

Consider Facebook’s now dominant role as a photo-sharing site. At its busiest, Facebook loads 550,000 photos each second, and you can assume that a fair share of these photos are uploaded or viewed via Facebook’s apps for smartphones. Now consider the metadata associated with these photos: The user’s GPS location, compass orientation, the time and date the photo was taken, whom else is present (via photo friend tags), and associated captions and concurrent status updates that provide some semantic cues as to what the photo literally and emotionally represents to the end user.

Get the picture?

The Facebook mobile app, and more specifically, the Facebook iPhone app is a powerful generative platform for an entire range of new services that Facebook could (and frankly, should) offer.

Imagine using Facebook’s deep archive of profile data and in situ metadata to find places and events around town that fit your desires at a moment’s notice.  Imagine having the ability to automatically view photos from your profile and the profiles of friends associated with a given location, time, or mood (“Placebooks,” anyone?).

To show you what this might look like, here is a very preliminary Facebook mobile app concept called “Sugar” I developed with two of my colleagues from the Institute of Design:

So where is mobile social networking heading? And what may lie ahead for Facebook?

Loopt, a location-based social network certainly grasps the power of in situ real-time user data and has recently begun offering “always on” service for users, allowing them to be alerted of the activity of nearby friends. While it is yet to be seen whether this type of service will achieve wide-scale adoption, it is an indication of what Facebook should be considering in future iterations of its mobile app (with the proper privacy features, of course). And to be fair, it seems Facebook may already be exploring such an idea with Nokia.

Mobile is the future of Facebook. When will Facebook begin to fully grasp this?

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