Facebook Turns Off Website Internally To Force Mobile Development

Just how important is mobile to Facebook? According to Facebook product manager Josh Williams, the former CEO of Gowalla, the social network's push toward mobility is crucial enough to its strategy to turn off Facebook's website internally.

"To be honest, a couple of weeks ago, myself and a number of other product managers had access to our website internally shut off," Williams revealed recently at SXSW. "Basically it forced us to use only mobile devices for a week…It forced us to say, 'Hey, we have these features that exist in one place but not in another, and we have to remedy.'"

The insight demonstrates just how important mobility is to Facebook's future. It's why Facebook spent $1 billion acquiring Instagram, the mobile-photo sharing platform, and why it has spent so much time defending against major players like Twitter and disruptive upstarts like Snapchat. Last quarter, monthly active mobile users reached 680 million, an increase of 57% year-over-year, and daily active mobile users exceeded daily web users for the first time. Mobile revenue accounted for roughly 23% of ad revenue in that quarter alone. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said then, "In 2012, we connected over a billion people and became a mobile company."

The key now is for Facebook's 4,600 employees to avoid falling into internal habits that might distort or ignore how real users outside Menlo Park are using the service. Shutting down the website is only one method. Williams said he's also gotten rid of his beloved iPhone to get a better sense of how users of other mobile platforms are experiencing the social network. "I'm a designer, and I use an iPhone--it's the way most designers are," he said. "But seven to eight months ago, I had to force myself to ditch it. I [was] going to use an Android device, as painful as it [was]. Because that's where so many of our users are."

Facebook's future revenue and continued growth depends on mobility. It's not enough that Facebook dominates user attention when they're at home on their computers--the company also needs to be the preferred on-the-go service, so users are checking Facebook (or Instagram) on their mobile devices instead of Twitter, Foursquare, or any number of mobile-centric social networks.

Asked whether Facebook's fluctuating stock price is influencing product at the company, Williams demurred.

"We don't look at the stock price much," he said. "Maybe that seems cliché or like I'm bullshitting you."

Still, despite that stock answer, Williams did later indicate there's a constant "tension" between building products for Facebook's users and its bottom line.

"There's always going to be some amount of tension," he acknowledged, "[as] we have to shift to mobile products and advertising products."

[Paper Plane Image: i9370 via Shutterstock]

[Ed. note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified what, exactly, was turned off internally at Facebook. It was facebook.com itself.]

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22 Comments

  • Mark Simchock

    The headline is a shame because most will think this article is about Facebook and mobile.

    The takeaway for everyone should be:

    Use, do and think like your target customer. Or someone else will.

    p.s. re: stock price. fwiw, I think Williams was bullshitting :)

  • Dierdre Popov

    Austin, as I read this story I don't get the impression that Facebook shut down their internal website, which is what your title would lead a reader to believe.

    But rather that certain Facebook employees simply stopped using the internal website (and perhaps used a technical measure to block their access instead of simply not visiting the site.)

    If this is so, then it merely raises the question as to why the product manager waited this long to discover the (rather severe) shortcomings of his product on a mobile device.

  • Rodolphe Even

    Even (or especially) when you became a global leader, you must live the lives of our customers and users.  Indeed, corporate life pushes employees to handle daily operational tasks or high level strategy, and few of them places to go point of sales or use their own services. Staring at a screen, or visiting a store, it is not beeing in customer’s shoes. The customers live the experience from the inside: they have a need, they have explicit or unconscious desires and they are in a particular context (loyalty card, promotions, SMS). Lesson of humility and empathy from Facebook.Rodolphe

  • les_madras

    this news just in:  Diaper factory locks employees out of all restrooms so they will understand their customers better.

  • Fredfitnessguy

    This article sounds like perfect cover for this quarters earning. call.  Here's the Zuck.  " The reason our revenues were so lousy is because the transition to being an all mobile company is taking us more time than we thought. In particular the Android platform  has more active users than our model predicted. By the third quarter of 2048 we should have this all figured and be back on track to be a real company."

  • newfonzie

    They can start by supporting all of their dialogs on mobile devices - especially the Send Dialog.

  • Sonnykohler

    Why does everybody think that absolutely everything is going mobile?  Even amongst my young friends (25 and under), they still do an awful lot on their regular laptops and computers.  Unless mobile pricing comes down, I can't see it all going mobile for quite a while.

  • Akhil Almeida

    Facebook user growth is linked to developing how markets in Asia and Africa. These are markets where cheap Android phones dominate. Cheap mobile data connectivity rates (even if it's on 2G networks), coupled with the relatively high price of laptops and tablets mean that for many of these users, a mobile phone is their only gateway to the Web.

    In addition, a number of cheap Android tablets are slowly gaining traction in these markets, thereby allowing these users to upgrade and bypass the shift to laptops/desktops altogether. It's no wonder then that Facebook will need to increase it's mobile focus.

  • Nicole Gilbert

    I wish Facebook had a delete function on mobile... If you have a typo in your status you can't change it until you log on a computer.

  • J Netzel

    this is a brilliant idea because maybe all the apple fanboys will finally realize that facebook on android is a shit app.  When the app isn't even capable of loading a picture in less than 20 seconds on a 4G LTE connection, something is seriously wrong.

  • Missus Waggsnapps

    "I had to force myself to ditch it. I [was] going to use an Android device, as painful as it [was]. " 

    Oh the pain, the pain...