Facebook shows maturity at F8 conference

On my first visit to Facebook’s new Mountain View offices, an eight-foot poster blared the company mantra at me:

“Move Fast and Break Things.”

That was 2011, when Facebook’s sun was rising, having just occupied Sun Microsystems Mountain View campus, the sun having just set on Sun Microsystems with its acquisition by Oracle. It was this attitude that made Facebook a success and is partially attributable to its successful transition to mobile. But its IPO and the mobile reinvention of its business were a crucible that matured Facebook.

Yesterday at Facebook’s f8 software developer conference, Mark Zuckerberg conceded that though it did not have the same ring to it, he was changing the company mantra to one that reflected the company’s maturity:

“Move Fast with Stable Infra[structure].”

Much of the conference was dedicated to explaining to developers how mobile apps can be built using Facebook to attract and engage users and monetize their engagement in diverse apps like games, dating, brick and mortar retail, publishing, etc. This audience of software developers has many different choices for computing infrastructures, like Amazon and Google and internet advertising platforms like Google’s ad network or Admobi. The promise to protect software development investments with stable and reliable Facebook hardware and software infrastructure and claims that the Facebook ecosystem is the best place for developers to monetize their apps are just table stakes.

Facebook’s maturity and stability as a software developer partner was convincing, but don’t imagine for a second that Zuckerberg, any member of the Facebook team, or anyone in the audience for that, submitted to some conservative old IT doctrine and donned a grey flannel suit to reflect stability – it was jeans, T-shirts and Converse sneakers, as usual. And there were a couple of big Facebook bets announced. Anonymous login is a bet on increasing end-user trust for the company. And the really big bet was the announcement of Facebook Audience Network, the company’s anticipated mobile ad network that could have a big impact on Facebook’s bottom line.

Facebook’s new login has changed personal privacy for the better. When logging into mobile apps, users often choose to sign in using Facebook, Google Plus or Twitter identities to eliminate the need to remember yet one more user name and password. But oftentimes the price of this one click sign on is allowing the app to write to the user’s Facebook page and handing over the users and their friends’ personal data. If the app or website developer has opted in to the new Facebook login, the user now has the choice of signing in with just his or her Facebook profile preventing the site from downloading contact information, friends lists, and photos. Even if the user allows the app to download his or her friends list, due to recent changes in policy, Facebook will not allow a friend’s personal information to be shared unless the friend has expressly allowed this information to be shared with that specific app. Facebook also announced anonymous sign on for apps and websites that opt in, allowing a user to try an app or website without giving up any personal information whatsoever.

The reader might ask: if the new Facebook sign on is opt-in, what good is it? It’s great for consumer privacy and even better for Facebook because advocacy makes clear that Facebook respects user privacy. In this personal privacy and identity-conscious world, this is a message that will be as welcome as Google’s mantra, “do no evil.”

Zuckerberg humbly kicked off the Facebook Audience Network FAN, making the case that although two years ago the company held the top mobile download positions on Google Play and the Apple App Store, it did not have any mobile revenues. But it converted this zero revenue position into almost 60% of Facebook’s advertising revenue in just two years, relying only on ads from its mobile news stream. He offered this as Facebook’s credentials, that since the company learned how to monetize mobile advertising in its own Facebook app, it could repeat this success with FAN for publishers and developers.

FAN extends Facebook’s web advertising network from Facebook web and mobile newsfeeds to push ads to mobile apps. The positive customer experiences during the last few months, with early adopters including the Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, Target, Audible, and Coca Cola, were presented by Facebook’s Deb Liu. Like Facebook’s web advertising product, FAN’s strength is in targeting advertisements based on Facebook’s treasure trove of personal information about the people that use its ecosystem. FAN lets mobile app developers and mobile content publishers make money by becoming a conduit for Facebook mobile ads. An app like Huffington Post or Audible can incorporate Facebook ads into their app flows that Facebook hopes will be less obtrusive than the typical mobile ad experience. Ad buyers can target mobile users based on Facebook data and push relevant advertisements to users’ smartphone. User privacy is not compromised because the ad is delivered based on cross referencing a unique user id between the mobile Facebook app and the publisher’s app.

Now that FAN has been released, more advertisers will try it and position it against the many other mobile ad networks, such as AdMob, InMobi, and MoPub. Online advertising is driven by data analytics, so as advertisers try FAN, its effectiveness and fit will become better understood. It will be a big win if FAN ads can escape the disdain that the typical mobile ad receives by being more relevant and if these ads can prove to be more effective while being less obtrusive. FAN is in direct competition with Google. Google’s Universal Analytics is the only large-scale platform that helps advertisers target campaigns at users across mobile and web platforms.

At its f8 Software Developer Conference, Facebook proved that it is not standing still, looking forward instead of backwards: conservative in its presentation as a stable partner with stable infrastructure, a risk-taking venture creating a new, more effective kind of mobile advertising, and an advocate for the privacy of the people that use its ecosystems. Facebook is a midsized company innovating to keep pace with smaller ventures.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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