As dominant as Facebook is, it's struggled to find its footing on mobile devices.
It's not that consumers don't interact with Facebook on their smartphones and tablets; they do. But making money off those mobile users is the social networking giant's biggest challenge. And as users spend more time on their mobile devices and less time on their traditional PCs, the company faces the prospect of declining revenue.
Thanks to those trends, Facebook watchers have for years predicted that the company would launch its own smartphone, to better tap into mobile consumers. Earlier this month, the company did take a big step into mobile, but not with its own phone. Instead, it released Home, an application that takes over the homescreen on Android devices, and announced that Home will come pre-installed on a new smartphone from HTC.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook's product management director, led the team that designed Home. He spoke with this newspaper earlier this month about the thinking behind Home. This is an edited version of the interview.
Q Why are you launching Home?
A A couple of different reasons, but I think the most important bit is we've always believed that people don't care particularly about Facebook. They care about the content. They care about seeing their sister who's in college on her first day or their nephew taking his first steps or their buddy doing something silly.
We've always wanted to celebrate that content and put it first. I think we sort of got away from that over the years. The website got more and more complicated. Our mobile products got more and more complicated.
What you're seeing us do is try to pivot back to that core early value of ours. So the recent redesign from about a month ago is very much the same idea: Remove clutter, make content bigger and more beautiful and get more and more out of the way.
Q Who is your target audience?
A Anybody who likes to keep up to date with their friends and their family. Not just in terms of Facebook content, but in terms of partner content as well. So, a Foursquare check-in with a photo will show up. Instagram shows up. So anybody who's super-interested in keeping up to date.
On top of that, if you message a lot. And even if you don't use Facebook Messenger and you just use texting, Chat Heads is a pretty great way to message on your phone.
Q Why not make your own phone or your own operating system?
A That doesn't make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.
Android is built to be open. There's all these different ways you can integrate with it. You have all of those tools for you available on a platform that's getting better and better and reaching massive scale. So it's all just sort of upside.
Creating a proprietary version of Android just seems bad for everybody. It would be bad for Android, and it would be bad for us. We would reach fewer people, and then people on Android would have fewer versions or older versions of our software, which would be bad. There's no good side to it.
Q How soon before users will see ads in Home?
A I don't think we have any specifics about timing. We actually are, across the company, looking at building more and more good, high-quality ad units. We just have a lot of things to figure out. The pricing model will probably have to be different; it's a different context of how it works.
Q What's next on the road map for new features?
A One is more and more story types, so getting ad units, video units. Actually, video is one thing I'm really excited about. You can imagine them being pretty awesome.
We definitely want to figure out a way to do some sort of buddy list, either integrating it into Chat Heads directly or into the Cover Feed somehow or as another layer. But having a people section dedicated to your friend list would be pretty great, and then you could use that to start conversations.
Other than that, we're going to look at improving things. We have a long list of things we're excited to do, some of which we're already working on. This is just the start.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Position: Product management director, Facebook
Previous jobs: Design director, Facebook's Mobile Product Group; designer, TokBox; co-founder, Blank, Mosseri
Education: Attended New York University's Gallatin School of Interdisciplinary Study