Mike Isaac

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How Is Facebook Home Really Doing?

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It has been a month since Facebook released Home, the company’s take on a socialized operating system built atop Android. And at a press event this week, Facebook talked about how the app has done in its first weeks on the market.

The verdict thus far? Not exactly a home run.

Consider this: Home’s project leads Cory Ondrejka and Adam Mosseri said the app was nearing a million downloads as of this week.

Sound impressive? Look at it this way: One million downloads of Facebook Home is less than .1 percent of Facebook’s entire monthly active user base, now topping 1.1 billion people every month. And as the company disclosed in its last earnings call, more than 750 million of those people visit Facebook regularly via mobile device.

Put simply, one million downloads is a drop in the social ocean.

Not that that matters to Facebook, which insists that it’s not that concerned with low numbers, even if some think they should be. “[The number of downloads is] not really important to us,” Mosseri told reporters. “What’s important to us is if people are liking the apps a lot.”

Update 3:15 p.m. PT, with further release context: User satisfaction, in this case, is the thrust of Facebook’s rollout strategy for Home, according to the company. Though Home is available for download globally, right now only five Android devices are capable of installing the software — a small amount compared to the hundreds of available Android handsets on the market. Facebook frames this as intentional; release slowly to select devices, and you can listen and fine-tune the product in future software updates, ultimately making the users happy. (That’s the goal, at least.)

While it might be unusual for Facebook to dismiss download numbers — particularly in the long term — it’s fair for the company to put user experience and uptake first. The problem is that Facebook didn’t break out how many of those downloads actually resulted in installs and prolonged use of the application. Downloads, after all, do not imply continued or even occasional usage. And as many negative Google Play reviews point out, there’s nothing keeping an unsatisfied user from immediately deleting Home shortly after installation.

Facebook did provide some encouraging data: Those who have downloaded the software spend 25 percent more time on Facebook as a whole, and users’ favorite features, they said, were Chat Heads and Cover Feed.

But the latter point is probably moot, considering that Chat Heads and Cover Feed are pretty much the key features of the software. And downloads and even engagement across Facebook as a whole don’t give us a clear picture of how many people are actually using and enjoying Home.

In fact, it’s exactly like Amazon’s continued unwillingness to disclose its actual Kindle sales numbers, or Google’s history of doling out cloudy Google Plus stats. It’s hard to take a new feature seriously if any company is unwilling to provide meaningful metrics on engagement and usage of the product in question.

But, as we’ve argued before, it doesn’t really matter how many folks inside the U.S. are going for Home, because it’s more important as an international play, a way to invade the phones of the myriad people whose primary computing devices are palm-sized. But project lead Mosseri wouldn’t give me the breakdown of international versus domestic downloads.

So, it’s fine that Facebook is listening to user feedback and is willing to improve the product on a regular monthly basis. But until Facebook drills down on just how many folks are actively using and enjoying the product, it’s probably best to postpone any victory lap.


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