Mobile Facebook users hit 150 million

Phone-based platforms are a major focus of the company, Facebook's mobile chief says

Facebook has about 150 million mobile users, up from just 100 million in April, and is counting on cell phones as the key platform for the future, according to the social-networking giant's head of mobile products, Eric Tseng.

"Mobile is fast becoming our growth lever," Tseng told attendees at the MobileBeat 2010 conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had pegged the number of mobile users at 100 million at the f8 developer conference in late April. Facebook has about 500 million members overall.

Over the next six months, Facebook's mobile platforms will "catch up" with its PC browser-based interface. Among other things, the company will soon update the application programming interfaces for its Android and iPhone apps, Tseng said. The company is also working to expand its "social graph," which extends features of Facebook onto other sites, to take advantage of mobile use. For example, a lunchtime promotion for a nearby restaurant might become more effective if it incorporated ratings by a mobile user's Facebook friends, he said.

But mobile may be even more important beyond the smartphone-heavy developed countries, according to Tseng. In many poorer countries, mobile devices are the first on-ramp to the Internet for most consumers, and Facebook is developing ways for them to become members and use the social network without ever starting up a PC.

Working with Indian carrier Airtel, Facebook set up a mobile-only user experience in which the carrier's subscribers can join Facebook on a phone. The company is even experimenting with serving subscribers that don't have data plans, running a trial in which one carrier is allowing subscribers to browse the stripped-down, text-only 0.facebook.com mobile service free of charge. This has drawn users into Facebook while also getting them into the mobile data world, Tseng said.

In what may be good news for Facebook users, Tseng said the company has no interest right now in putting ads on mobile Facebook, because it's still focused on expanding mobile use. However, it would be fairly straightforward technically to do so, he added.

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