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.]