Diversifying Facebook Home could broaden its appeal, analysts say

Integrating more outside social apps into the service could extend its reach beyond core Facebook users

Facebook's Home mobile software for Android-equipped smartphones might only appeal to the most active Facebook users at first, but the company's plan to integrate third-party social services into it could broaden its appeal.

Home, which was unveiled Thursday, is a software service initially available for Android devices and designed to give people faster access to their Facebook content and messaging with friends. One of its chief features is Cover Feed, which replaces the smartphone's home and lock screen to give users a constantly updated visual display of the activity and status updates of their friends and the groups they follow on Facebook.

Currently, all of Cover Feed's content is Facebook-generated, but other services, such as Tumblr or Instagram feeds, could be integrated into Home's Cover Feed eventually, Facebook said during the Home launch event at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

"Over time, we hope to get more content in there," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. "That's a huge opportunity."

It's also a good idea if Facebook truly wants its new product to appeal to more than its most active users, analysts say.

"Treating Home as a platform where people can access other social feeds, as opposed to a proprietary app, will broaden its appeal," said Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research.

Cover Feed functions similarly to Facebook's News Feed, although instead of scrolling through updates, people swipe through them, as each update or post fills the screen. These updates, which are presented in a rich visual display, are meant to more deeply connect users with their friends.

Home's Cover Feed will probably be pretty boring for people who are not very active on Facebook, Gartner analyst Brian Blau said. For the product to gain mass appeal, a greater variety of social activity outside of Facebook will have to be integrated into it, Blau said.

Users like being able to customize their social feeds, Blau said. Facebook served this demand recently in News Feed with a redesign that added the ability to browse the feed by subject. These types of enhancements would serve Home well, and adding third-party feeds is one such change that users may see, Blau said.

But if Home weaves in more content in future versions, there is also the concern it could become too cluttered. "They need to strike the right balance between functionality and simplicity," Opus' Sterling said.

Facebook Home will be made available in Google's Play Store starting April 12.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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