Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Friending Without Benefits? But Facebook Keeps On Forging Into the Mobile Market!

In an article in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about an alliance being discussed between Facebook and Nokia, came news about the pair working on a deal to deeply integrate the hot social network with the handsets of the world’s largest maker of mobile phones.

Although BoomTown has seen this movie before–a similar mobile deal with a Nokia (NOK) investment in Facebook was being bandied about a year ago–expect more noise than ever when it comes to social-networking sites and mobile devices in 2009.

As you can see from the chart below, Facebook ran past MySpace in the number of unique visitors via mobile phone in the early fall of 2008 and kept climbing.

Said the Journal article: “In December, Facebook had seven million U.S. mobile users, compared with MySpace’s 5.7 million, according to Nielsen Co.” (Full disclosure: MySpace is owned by News Corp. (NWS), which also owns Dow Jones, the owner of this site.)

And, indeed, to get this kind of traction, Facebook has been very busy ferreting away to get a presence on all the big cellphone makers, so far mostly by building its popular Facebook application for smartphones like the BlackBerry from Research in Motion (RIMM) and iPhone from Apple (AAPL).

Facebook–the Journal piece said–has also been talking to Palm (PALM), which will launch its new Pre smartphone in the spring, and Motorola (MOT), about being integrated into their operating systems too.

The race to be present on mobile devices by everyone and their Internet mother has gotten all hopped up with the introduction of so many smartphones of late, since these devices make any Web app experience much better.

And consumer uptake of these kinds of phones, with big screens and multitouch capabilities, is widely expected to dramatically increase over the next five years,

But here is the dicey money–or nonmoney, actually–quote from the article:

“As with most of the cellphone-software industry, Facebook has yet to find a way to generate meaningful revenue from its mobile services, which include text-messaging features, a mobile Web site and downloadable software. But the number of users accessing its site from phones has grown.”

Oh dear–that roughly translates in Facebook-speak to friending without benefits, with costs rising without much (or any) revenue coming in, to speak of.

Of course, many would argue that both Facebook and MySpace, as well other big players, have to still play hard in the mobile market to gain users–given that consumers are on the move more than ever, digitally-speaking–even if it takes a while to see financial results.

So while efforts by mobile advertising services, such as AdMob, are trying to make that happen and are definitely promising, it’s still a game of growth and not revenue or, of course, profits.

[T-shirt image, courtesy of Zazzle.]