Dear Mark and Sheryl,
We have not had the opportunity to meet in person, but I would be interested in doing so if your schedules permit. Right now I know that you and your team are busy kicking off a road show that will soon result in the largest Internet IPO in the history of the world. As part of that road show, I know that one of the largest and most important topics of the institutional dialogues will centre on Facebook’s market position and strategy for mobile, including its advertising centric mobile monetization initiatives. You have recently suggested that mobile is a key area of growth for Facebook and also that you intend to invest heavily in mobile rolling forward now that half of your global audience already consists of mobile users.
I am writing you this message today because I believe that you are continuing to make a critical and fundamental mistake in your thinking about mobile that all of the advertising monetization in the world will unfortunately not solve for you and your team in the mid and long term. Namely, you appear to have gotten overly religious about technology for technology sake and are mistakenly pushing a web and HTML5 centric “write once run everywhere” mobile application portfolio that jeopardizes the enormously critical high value touch point between the Facebook brand and your “anything, anytime, anywhere” audience. Without near term and material strategic change to your mobile engagement philosophy, and a core understanding that the mobile user experience needs to override the underlying technology delivering the user’s mobile access to your platform, I believe that all of your tactical mobile advertising monetization efforts will either result in suboptimal profit yield per user in the best case or a complete failure in the worst case. Clearly you are thinking big in this area as you recently paid $1B to acquire Instagram. However, thinking big on mobile before getting your operational mobile house in order is not going to give you the experiential results that you seek for your global audience. And unfortunately, without the experiential results for your global audience in the mid and long term, you are not going to be able to achieve the financial results that you seek in parallel for your soon-to-be public shareholders.
Before either of you click delete or simply move on to the next Internet URL, please allow me to explain myself and also please allow me to qualify myself on behalf of Phunware. While we do not count any individual mobile experiences (our term for client-side apps) on the scale of 500 million mobile users worldwide, we have created category defining mobile experiences for many of the largest and most important consumer brands on Earth and in the aggregate we can compare to both your global reach and scale. In the last 3 years we have delivered tens of billions of minutes of mobile user engagement across more than 100 countries and 10 languages, including CBS, NBC, ESPN, E!, The CW, Univision, Demand Media, OWN, Turner, Discovery, Sony, NASCAR, Formula One, Callaway Golf and the NFL just to name a few, and their aggregate audiences, communities, content and traffic are extremely representative of what we would expect to see within your mobile community. As such, we believe that our assessment of your mobile application portfolio is educated, qualified, targeted and practical based on empirical rather than theoretical data (or beliefs). With that as a backdrop, and assuming that you would be kind enough to allow me, please let me make a few suggestions for your consideration.
First, you should realise and accept that web and HTML5 centric mobile applications are simply not ready for prime-time right now and should only be applied and deployed exclusively on unproven or “audience challenged” mobile platforms. While the concept of “write once, run everywhere” mobile applications sounds extremely seductive, I have written extensively about this delusion and how they simply don’t work at all. Not yet anyway. Your potential technology religion in this area is effectively ensuring that your applications will remain “average everywhere and exceptional nowhere” and will continue running the risk of offending your “anything, anytime, anywhere” community. Web and HTML5 are not silver bullets, panaceas or viable consumer offerings and your nearly 1B person user base simply deserves better than what they are getting from you currently. What is that? Unfortunately it is an extremely content rich, but incredibly slow loading and latency ridden mobile experience that is best characterised by “sticky” scrolling, clumsy navigation and inaccurate, out of date or unsynchronized friend requests, messages and notifications that far too often culminate in application freezes or crashes. Some of the most noteworthy crashes are typically tied to fragile in-application web browsing through web sites and user shared news URLs such as TechCrunch and equally fragile content consumption navigation with user photos. While “killing” and relaunching mobile applications over and over again speaks volumes to the content and connectivity that your users seek (and may even be obsessed by currently), it should equally represent a major red flag concerning the potential mid and long term effects to your brand, business, mobile users and the underlying viability of your mobile advertising monetization model.
Second, you should immediately invest the time, money and effort to develop deep, broad and engaging native mobile experiences for at least the iOS and Android mobile operating systems. Rightly or wrongly, today’s mobile reality is that native code deployments afford the necessary control of memory, processing power, screen resolution and feature sets underlying the various mobile operating systems exponentially better than any web or HTML5 centric comparable experience. If you want to engage and enrich your mobile user’s Facebook experience (which I know you both do), then you have to arm each mobile user with a mobile experience framework and platform interface point that will allow them to effortlessly do whatever they want, wherever they want, however they want. Why would you want to support all mobile platforms via a web and HTML5 centric code base as a core tenet when all of the mobile platforms are not even relevant yet? Be phenomenal on those that have critical mass and enrich the underlying user experience by custom building purpose-built mobile applications that show off the high quality of the Facebook brand and the value and esteem with which you hold your user base. After all, it is impossible to say that you are where you are for and because of your users and then deliver a product that epitomizes the exact opposite. In the world of telephony, nobody really cares if a specific phone call is completed using TDMA, CDMA, voice-over-cable or voice-over-IP as all of the technology should be completely transparent and simply a means to an end where someone dials a number, connects to a person that they are looking for and everything simply works. Unfortunately, your current mobile experiences cause the technology to become overtly noticeable to the end user, who then focuses more on trying to figure out how to either make them work or tolerate their limitations (like we all do currently with bad cell phone connections) instead of building their brand loyalty, continued engagement and the perceived value and utility that they internalize via what should always be a timely, responsive and satisfying platform interface with Facebook.
Third, you should invest heavily in to the alerts, messages, notifications and caching associated with the content of your mobile experiences for those use cases where your mobile users have either bad Internet connections or no Internet connections at all. Right now your mobile experiences turn in to digital paper weights whenever users lack the appropriate network connectivity (or are on a flight). Your mobile users deserve far better than a message “No Internet Connection. Try Again.” What really separates the mobile good from the mobile bad or ugly is the care and attention afforded mobile user experiences when there is bad Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G or no network connection at all. Proactive user alerts, messages and notifications, accompanied by intelligent content caching, will dramatically improve the perceived value of your user base in your interactions with them and also prove that you understand “the other IOS” – Cisco’s Internet Operating System – for the network routing and switching fabric so critical to the server-side foundation of your client-side experience. In the brave new mobile world we all operate in, the client-side, server-side *and* content side are all necessary and sufficient conditions for “anything, anytime, anywhere” mobile success. Choose one or two of the three at your own peril and risk in the mid and long term.
In closing, please accept my congratulations on your successes to date with Facebook and also on your very well deserved transition from the private markets to the public markets. Your market and mindshare position worldwide is enviable, but your mobile strategy and tactics for both engagement and monetization could benefit from some additional external expertise, assistance and mobile DNA. If you are interested in talking to me further or learning more about how we can help, please contact me at your convenience at [email protected] … or better yet … just shoot me a message on my Facebook Timeline.