Facebook Cagey About Mobile Monetization

Facebook will bank on mobile advertising to make money from mobile, and won't likely build out a mobile OS or market hardware (as some suspect), analysts told eWEEK.

When companies cite certain risk factors in their S-1 filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it's expected they will list competitors in their space. Companies also like to list market uncertainties.

Facebook, which filed its S-1 prospectus for a $5 billion IPO last week, listed mobile as one of those risks.

"We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven," the company wrote (page 13 of the prospectus).

"Accordingly, if users continue to increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers, and if we are unable to successfully implement monetization strategies for our mobile users, our revenue and financial results may be negatively affected."

Media pounced on Facebook's mobile uncertainty, which is understandable considering that more than half Facebook's 845 million member user base accesses the social network from their mobile phones, including the mobile Website and via applications.

Yet only days later, media reported that Facebook's popular sponsored stories ad format was coming to users' mobile feeds. That didn't take long, but that wasn't the first time the how-will-Facebook-make-money-from-mobile chant started.

Back before HP said it would take webOS open source, some speculated Facebook could buy that OS. Another way to address the problem is for Facebook to develop an operating system, a la Android or iOS, and build out its own advertising ecosystem, just as Android and iOS have done.

"Owning a mobile application framework or run-time on devices, potentially with its own app store, is one approach to help their application partners come along," IDC analyst Al Hilwa told eWEEK. "Owning a mobile OS is another, but I think Facebook has its hands full from an R&D agenda right now, and it is not clear it makes a lot of sense for them to bash it out in the mobile operating systems world."

Hilwa sees mobile advertising as they key for Facebook, which will have to tread in the large footsteps of Google, Apple and others who are cutting their teeth on the mobile Web after buttering their bread on the desktop Web.

EMarketer said mobile advertising will top $2.6 billion this year, up 80 percent from $1.45 billion in 2011, which means there's plenty of opportunity for companies to leverage.

Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg said Facebook doesn't need to build a mobile OS or corresponding hardware to co-opt social activity on other companies' platforms, thanks to integrations with Skype, Microsoft (through Bing) and even browser makers such as RockMelt.

"It's just a matter of time before they monetize those offerings effectively," Gartenberg told eWEEK. "Just because Facebook hasn't monetized those opportunities yet doesn't mean they're not going to," Gartenberg said.

For example, Facebook could also ink partnerships to offer targeted ads on carriers' Android and Windows Phone handsets. Facebook could also tap mobile gaming, accepting payments for applications via virtual currency.

This field is very green. In other words, what risk factors? Nothing to see here.

One thing's for sure: Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook continue to increasingly get into each others€™ businesses, building out their own walled gardens on desktops and mobile devices.