Facebook Pushes Further Into Mobile

11/3/10

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this morning announced plans to extend Facebook’s influence in the mobile world, making it the center of a social ecosystem in which users would use their Facebook credentials to sign on to various services, reveal their locations, see where their friends are located, and find and claim deals from nearby businesses for themselves and their friends.

The move comes less than two weeks after Facebook invested in a $250 million sFund (social fund) started by its Silicon Valley neighbor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which is based in Menlo Park, CA.

“We’ve seen that we can rethink any product area to be social, so all interactions involve a person’s friends,” said Zuckerberg, speaking at Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, CA, and clad in his standard T-shirt and jeans. “We can have it grow virally and remake whole industries. Mobile is a big area of expansion, and building social apps is as big as that. Combine this, and there are really big opportunities for industries to get disrupted. We hope to be part of that with all you guys.”

Facebook’s plans are divided into three parts. Facebook users will be able to sign on to services from Facebook’s partners—so far those include Groupon, Zynga, Loopt, SCVNGR, Yelp, Flixter and Booyah—on either the iPhone or Android with a single click, using their Facebook credentials. Updates to Facebook’s Android software development kit are available now; iPhone updates are coming in a week.

Facebook is also opening its Write and Search application programming interfaces for Facebook Places, inviting developers to create applications that will allow users who reveal their own locations to see where their friends are and to search for deals from nearby businesses.

Friends’ locations will also be revealed through any of Facebook’s partners—you could see where your Yelp friends are, for instance, if you’ve logged into Facebook.

“We believe that data wants to be unified,” said Sam Altman, the CEO of Loopt, which has offered similar location and discovery services since 2006. “We believe Facebook is a great source of that.” Altman’s demo of Loopt’s Facebook app crashed, though. He said the app was brand new.

Facebook’s merchant partners so far include Gap, which is giving away jeans to the first 10,000 people who check in on Facebook, and The North Face, which is donating $1 for every Facebook check-in to the National Parks Foundation.

Facebook’s Erick Tseng, who heads Facebook’s mobile business, declined to say how Facebook will make money off these new offerings, although businesses that offer deals can buy advertising through Facebook and direct it to their Facebook pages. Tseng said Facebook’s first goal is to build out an ecosystem of users.

Reporters at the event pushed both Zuckerberg and Tseng on privacy, asking whether users’ personal data would be shared, either accidentally or on purpose, by Facebook’s partners.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that some Facebook apps created by third parties were transmitting information on Facebook users and their friends l to advertisers and data brokers. A Facebook spokesman told the Journal that Facebook would fix the problem.

Both men said Facebook users retain control over their data and have to actively choose to share it. Tseng said apps that violate Facebook’s privacy policies are disabled and advised users to use “common sense.”

Deborah Gage is a technology writer based in the Bay Area. Follow @

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