When Facebook took the world by storm 10 years ago, there was only one natural interface to use it: the web browser.
This single portal for experiencing Facebook made sense at the time: It kept features, old and new, in one tidy place.
But the advent of mobile — the “app era” — changed all this.
The smartphone, not the web, became the new portal for experiencing features, and people gravitated toward apps that served a single purpose or accomplished a single goal. It took some time, but Facebook has caught onto this trend and responded in kind, slicing up its many distinct features and services into standalone apps like Facebook Messenger, Paper, Poke, and Slingshot.
Some of Facebook’s apps have faired better than others, but Facebook has demonstrated it’s not afraid to diversify, all the while keeping its core Facebook app focused on the classic Facebook experience rather than cramming more under the hood.
In a big story on Facebook’s future, Fast Company delved into the company’s new mindset and recognition of the changing times. Here are the big takeaways.
- Facebook wants to be like Coca-Cola, offering multiple standalone apps (like flavours) while maintaining the classic flagship.
- Facebook realises it has the world’s largest platform for growing and advertising new apps, and is actively using this to both empower fledgling apps and get a piece of their pie.
- Mark Zuckerberg is willing to go on the offensive and acquire apps or companies that have already filled a hole that Facebook can’t fill first (like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Oculus).
- Facebook sees itself as the infrastructure or “fabric” of apps, and this is where its true longevity lies. By utilising its own advertising platform and developer tools (like the app-builder Parse), Facebook can enable apps to easily deep-link to each other and remove the need for clicking out of an app or visiting an app store.
These goals will certainly help protect Facebook through the continuation of the app era, but the real test will happen after the next platform shift.
Facebook has the capital and user base to experiment, and that’s where the more eyebrow-raising acquisitions — such as virtual reality company Oculus — come into play.
Zuckerberg is betting that Oculus, the maker of the VR headset Oculus Rift, will revolutionise how people communicate in the next 10 years. Facebook has focused primarily on the headset’s gaming applications, but Zuckerberg believes the Rift will allow for real-time conversations that are both virtual and immersive. In the same way Facebook allowed users an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of their friends and family, the Rift could eventually trick our minds into thinking we’re conversing in the same room as those people.
It’s a gamble, but Facebook’s growth and dominance in the social sphere allows it to take these kinds of risks. With any luck, one of these gambles may be enough to stave off obscurity for another decade.