Facebook: Champion the Mobile Web and Revive Consumer (And Investor) Love
Facebook’s IPO stumble has dominated the news and cast a pall on virtually all Silicon Valley companies with a Nasdaq ticker, as well as those thinking about an IPO or even just getting started. The Wall Street Journal runs daily headlines, talk-show commentators fill the airwaves, and Congress and the SEC are investigating. Jane Wells of CNBC even broadcast from a favorite Silicon Valley breakfast spot where VCs, CEOs and Internet gadflies alike say the debacle is as unsightly as a hash scramble.
Consumers also are rightly riled. Once fans of Facebook, personal investors have lost significant dollars and “Unliked” their once-favorite social network. Can the movie “The Social Network II” be far behind?
I have a recommendation for Facebook to revive its fortunes: Champion the mobile Web, and give the more than one billion (and growing) global mobile 3G subscribers equal access to the games, entertainment and content they want via a mobile browser — and significantly increase revenue at the same time.
Right now, every company with a .com moniker is struggling to figure out how to adapt its business to a proprietary mobile applications world. The giants — Apple, Google and Amazon — control the hardware and the application stores. Facebook, the company that in many ways epitomizes all of the promise and potential of the Internet, can’t distribute applications, and will remain stifled if it is itself an application beholden to these application-stores’ policies and punitive taxes. However, if Facebook unlocks the mobile Web browser and becomes the portal for advertising and payments, every Internet content provider will want to work with Facebook. Under this scenario, Facebook will rise again and quickly reverse the image of a bungled IPO and declining stock price.
As co-founder and CEO of Kabam, an online games company that has risen with Facebook since 2006, I would like to ask Facebook’s management this question: Who should be the undisputed leader in creating a mobile Web ecosystem in which both consumers and developers win? (Answer: Facebook!)
Many game companies built their businesses on top of Facebook because of its huge worldwide audience, astoundingly effective viral communication channels, easy authentication and unique advertising-targeting capabilities. It’s a shame Facebook has stumbled with its investors in its early days as a public company. But that stumble will be short-lived if Facebook unlocks the enormous potential of the mobile Web without the constraints of Apple’s and Google’s application stores.
Naysayers will tell you that Facebook’s revenue model won’t translate to mobile. The mobile screen is too small to accommodate a game or application with ads alongside, they say. Advertising rates are five times higher on the traditional Web than on the mobile Web, they will tell you. Even some great Internet companies report that average revenue per user is as much as five times lower on mobile.
But not for long.
This May, mobile use hit 10 percent of total global Internet traffic, up from half that at the same time last year, according to Mary Meeker — who just spoke about the mobile Internet at the D10 conference. Tablets, with those beautiful larger screens, are the driving force. The iPad growth curve is much steeper than that for the iPhone.
Apple, Google and Amazon will not champion the open mobile Web. They’re focused on monetizing their hardware, and they already have a number of app marketplaces and initiatives in the race. Only Facebook can serve as the neutral champion of the egalitarian mobile Web.
Kabam has enjoyed a six-year history of developing content for Facebook, and we want to embrace Facebook’s evolution to the mobile Web. However, our first mobile title skirts Facebook altogether. For the last several weeks, Kingdoms of Camelot has been in and out of the No.1-grossing spot in Apple’s app store. Facebook is missing this revenue opportunity, and millions of consumers are locked out from it because they use an Android mobile device.
Consumers want access to games and content on mobile as easily as Facebook’s users access games and content on the Web. Facebook, you can do it. Provide a simple, easy way for consumers to access games and content over the mobile Web, and give developers a way to extend their Web sites to mobile without a proprietary application.
With the public markets in unrest over Facebook’s IPO, companies evaluating the effectiveness of advertising on Facebook and app developers fleeing to Apple’s and Google’s platforms, Facebook should seize the opportunity to potentially increase its revenue by building a mobile Web alternative. By helping itself, Facebook will be doing a great service to its investors — and to consumers in general.
That’s an online game in which everyone wins.
Kevin Chou is CEO of San Francisco-based Kabam Inc.