Facebook gets down to business on mobile

The company says it's ready to put its money where its mouth is on mobile first

After spending the past six months talking about prioritizing its business around mobile platforms, Facebook says it's time to get down to business.

"Everybody is thinking about mobile, everybody is thinking about Android," said Mike Shaver, Facebook's director of mobile engineering, speaking to reporters at the company's Menlo Park, California, headquarters on Monday morning.

The company declared it was going "mobile first" in August of last year in reaction to rocketing numbers of users accessing the site via their cellphones.

But before it publicly outlined its shift to prioritize mobile platforms, Facebook began offering all employees the opportunity to take part in intensive, weeklong training sessions that immersed them in programming for Google's Android platform and Apple's iOS, said Shaver.

The sessions were available to all employees, not just programmers, and Facebook has already seen 450 through the program. Two-thirds of those studied Android and one in five employees in the program weren't programmers, said Shaver.

The switch to mobile first means that product teams working on Facebook features like messaging and the news feed are now responsible for getting those onto the mobile platform. That's a big change from before, when the feature teams would develop for the desktop and the mobile team worked on getting those features onto cellphone screens.

That division of labor was also what freed up the mobile team to work on new versions of the Facebook app for iOS and Android.

For users, this focus on mobile should mean more of Facebook's features are accessible from their mobile apps, using the apps should become easier, and they should better integrate with the phone's operating system.

An indication of whether this is working could come as early as Thursday, when the company will announce a new version of the news feed that makes up the core of the user experience on Facebook.

For Facebook, the end goal is getting users accessing the site more, making it easy to read and post from anywhere, and then hopefully seeing a rise in advertising income because of that.

Early results appear promising.

By the end of 2012, two-thirds of its 1 billion active monthly users came to the site either in part or fully via Facebook's mobile platforms -- a jump of 57 percent compared to the previous year. And advertising revenue from mobile platforms made up 23 percent of Facebook's advertising take in the fourth quarter of 2012, up from 14 percent just three months earlier.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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