Facebook is looking smarter than ever. It happens in a flash.
It seems like only yesterday, when everybody was complaining about Facebook's lack of a mobile presence. Their initial strikes at a mobile app were simply lesser versions of their Web-based experience. Then, something happened. It took a mere six months for the company to turn that around by releasing a full native mobile app experience, that gave consumers a new way to look at Facebook. The output of this shift from Web-based to mobile-primed could not have happened at a better time. While Google has forged ahead with Android and many other necessary leaps in technology, their core search product (and the one that generates a massive amount of their nearly $400 billion market cap) is driven by their search engine advertising business. And, whether it's on mobile or on the Web, that experience hasn't evolved all that much. That is no slight. Search is fast, efficient and as good as it has ever been, but as a platform, it is what it is. Yes, they're making many fascinating moves with Google+, but the jury is still out on how much adoption their social, mobile and Web integration is truly having.
Facebook is living the one screen world reality, almost better than any other brand. This was pushed even further with the announcement of Paper (which is set to launch on February 3rd, 2013). While I, personally, wish they would have chosen another name (because the current Paper app is really awesome and will create confusion), this is a very smart business strategy for Facebook. One of the biggest challenges that they face is the fact that Facebook is a walled garden. Everything happens within Facebook. There have been small sediments of this changing (they allow external sites to have Like Buttons, the ability to embed Facebook posts on any website and some other plays), but the primary Facebook experience, happens on Facebook. From the current slew of reviews for Paper, it feels like Facebook is creating an entirely new mobile experience to engage with content that is both a part of the regular newsfeed along with content from outside, and that the secondary value proposition is one's ability to use Facebook to share. That's right: a great mobile app for all types of content first, and Facebook being the sharing underbelly of it. Smart. Super smart strategy. All roads don't lead to Facebook and this will allow them to diversify in what is typically a very finicky space.
Building a portfolio company.
Facebook could have bought a Flipboard-like company, but instead opted to build something on their own. Bolt that on to Facebook (as it currently exists) and Instagram (which they bought for close to one billion dollars in 2012), and we could be at the beginning of a very interesting company that is building/buying a suite of applications to help people connect and share (which would be directly in line with Mark Zuckerberg's vision for connecting the world). I'm apprehensive to be bullish on Paper without playing with it and seeing how everyone else adopts it, but based on the promotional video, etc... it does feel like a standalone product, or even something that could live on if Facebook's dominance in online social networking wanes (which is hard to imagine). The company's focus on social networking, mobile, photos and now stories/news/journalism/more social media paints a vivid picture about the future of how we connect and share. It's still a puzzle with many missing pieces, but based on their recently quarterly earnings call, and now the announcement of Paper, Facebook - which will celebrate it's tenth anniversary this year - continues to look fresh, viable and growing. If they continue down the road of this strategy to build out independent and useful applications that aren't beholden to Facebook as a destination, this could be the beginning of a next-generation publishing and media company.
If you have been following Facebook for any semblance of time, it is a fascinating story to watch unfold.