Just after passing 250 million monthly active mobile users, Facebook overhauled its mobile web presence today. The company now has a single mobile website that is simultaneously accessible to feature and smartphones. This is some early experimentation with technology that may one day be rolled out to third-party developers.
“As developers, we see a lot of fragmentation,” said Erick Tseng, the company’s head of mobile products. “A lot of people don’t know that we have to maintain multiple code bases to maintain all of our mobile apps and websites. It was a giant pain.”
Having presences on multiple mobile devices and platforms led to the company’s mobile web presence falling behind the experience on the desktop. The old touchscreen version of the website (http://touch.facebook.com) would have abilities that the more basic version for feature phones (http://m.facebook.com) wouldn’t and so on.
Using WURFL, XHP and Javelin, Facebook has created a framework for adapting applications to different mobile platforms and devices. That way engineers can focus on building the core technology while the framework will handle rendering it appropriately for each device. The new framework will take into account different hardware designs with varying screen resolution and size or with keypads and then adapt the mobile website to show the right user interface for the phone.
Tseng wouldn’t disclose what percentage of its users access apps versus the web. However, we understand that about half of its users turn to apps while 60 percent use the web, suggesting a big overlap between the two. Facebook’s mobile user base has grown by more than 50 million people since November of last year.
It’s early, but Tseng didn’t rule out the possibility that the technology behind the new mobile website might be used to help Facebook’s developer ecosystem.
“For today, there is no announcement around how this will play into the platform space,” he said. “But the engineering feat that went into this does push our overall strategy forward around HTML5.”
He said deploying the technology to third-party developers “could be interesting but right now, we’re just seeing how it performs among our own users.”
“This is something we’ve never done before, so we want to make sure it works and that our users love it,” he said.