Facebook’s Platform Mission: Help You Build, Grow, And Monetize

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2013 this afternoon, spoke of his vision for Facebook, explaining that when he thinks about the company’s mission in connecting people, it’s not to get everyone using Facebook. “Of course we do, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” he said. “I think what’s more likely that people are all going to be using tools that they can use to connect in different ways.”

When Facebook first started, the software and services industry was more focused on building tools to provide access to information, instead of tapping into humans’ natural desire to communicate with each other. “Our brains are wired towards communicating with other people,” he said of this opportunity. Meanwhile, early social networks emerging at the time were trying to everything themselves, but Zuckerberg said they realized early on that no one company could do everything itself.

Instead, Facebook decided to build a platform that would enable other companies to build socially enabled apps. The first version of this platform, called Canvas, evolved into a billion dollar industry. But the full vision over time was Facebook could enable other apps by allowing for logins, importing friends, enabling distribution out and different services – “that what’s we’re focused on now,” said Zuckerberg.

“We have three pillars of the platform strategy which are: build, grow and monetize.”

On the ‘build” side, Facebook has logins and identity and tools like Parse, which allows developers to not worry about the backend of their mobile applications. Parse, for those unfamiliar, is the mobile backend-as-a-service that Facebook acquired in April to beef up its platform services offerings. It lets developers store their apps’ data in the cloud, handle identity log-ins, deliver push notifications, and roll out custom code from the cloud. In September, Parse CEO Ilya Sukhar announced the service had grown to handle “billions of API requests, billions of push notifications, and hundreds of millions of devices.” Parse currently serves over 100,000 apps, as well.

Parse, as TechCrunch’s Josh Constine previously explained, is Facebook’s answer to iOS and Android in a way, as it enables Facebook to get nearly as much of the value of owning an OS, without having to actually building one.

The “Grow” part of the Facebook strategy, meanwhile, refers to the company’s ability to help other developers scale their businesses on Facebook, the newest aspect to this being Facebook’s mobile app install ads. Today’s app stores are cluttered with hundreds of thousands of apps, and it’s nearly impossible to break into the top charts as a newcomer. Facebook sees its platform as a solution to this problem, having been positioning itself as the paid gateway to app discovery.

“That’s a part of our business that’s growing really quickly,” Zuckerberg noted, though he didn’t provide any figures related to that metric today. However, he mentioned that consumers now spend 1 in 5 minutes on Facebook on mobile, versus 1 in 7 minutes on the desktop which speaks to the overall possibilities for mobile app install ads and app discovery as an alternative to browsing mobile app stores.

Developers also use Facebook for payments, which is where this third and final pillar fits in.

“If we can help make it so that the industry overall can build better social apps that are more human, by helping them build, grow, and monetize, then I’d feel really good.”

Correction: Facebook says Parse now has 100,000 apps, not 60,000. The story has been updated to reflect the new figures.