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Wondering why Facebook is so focused on mobile? Here's a possible answer

May 9, 2012

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and one of the youngest billionaires in the world, shocked us all when he announced that Facebook would purchase Instagram for $1 billion. The deal went through immediately, and, while most industry pundits saw it as the action of an eccentric, wealthy young man, the acquisition might have been part of a well-thought “strategy” after all.

At least that’s what financial analysts are claiming after reviewing the results of a very interesting ComScore report. According to the report, people actually spend more time on Facebook on their mobile devices over than their PCs.

The study was conducted in the US, but its results underline the increasingly high-profile role of mobile tech in social networking worldwide. The average time spent by mobile users on Facebook during March was of 441 minutes (7 hours and 21 minutes), while computer users only accessed the social networking website for an average of 391 minutes (6 hours and 31 minutes). Poor souls.

That’s a pretty huge gap and ComScore reports that, while both numbers have grown in the past couple of months, the average time spent by a mobile user on Facebook has grown more significantly. Check out ComScore’s metrics below.

Top Smartphone Properties by Total Unique Visitors (Mobile Browser and App Audience Combined)
March 2012
Total U.S. Smartphone Subscribers Age 18+ on iOS, Android and RIM Platforms
Source: comScore Mobile Metrix 2.0
Total Unique Visitors (000)% ReachBrowser % Share of Total Time SpentApp % Share of Total Time Spent
Total Audience (Browsing and Application combined)97,007100.0%18.5%81.5%
Google Sites93,95496.9%18.9%81.1%
Yahoo! Sites66,18568.2%25.3%74.7%
Amazon Sites44,02845.4%14.3%85.7%
Wikimedia Foundation Sites39,07340.3%99.8%0.2%
Apple Inc.38,30939.5%0.3%99.7%
Cooliris, Inc28,54329.4%0.0%100.0%
AOL, Inc.28,02128.9%47.4%52.6%
Rovio (Angry Birds)25,05725.8%3.7%96.3%
Weather Channel, The24,13124.9%47.1%52.9%
Microsoft Sites23,93824.7%82.1%17.9%

You might wonder at this point if this is a good or a bad thing for Facebook, right? Well, according to the company’s own claims, “if users increasingly access 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 financial performance and ability to grow revenue would be negatively affected.”

In other words, people accessing Facebook on their mobile phones is not so good for Facebook’s wallet. But, if they find a way to “monetizing” said traffic without infuriating ego obsessed teenagers, then things should be just fine.

Instagram’s very expensive purchase (making it worth more than the New York Times, no less) might start to seem less crazy when you consider why Facebook has started including “sponsored stories” in users’ mobile feeds for several months now. We should expect even more ads to be shown by Facebook on our handhelds soon enough, as there’s still a large gap between advertising on the PC version of the website and on the mobile version.

Another profitable area where Facebook is expected to focus on is through further app and game integration, which is said to earn the company around $60 million each month, according to some estimates. Getting back to ComScore’s report though, we should mention that while mobile users stay on Facebook more than PC users, the website has consistently more visitors in the U.S. that access it through their computers and laptops. There are 158.9 million unique visitors that enter Facebook via their PCs, which is more than double the number of people accessing the website via mobile phones (around 78 million) for the same time period. The two groups do overlap, however, so the number of absolute unique US visitors is significantly less impressive.

I’m almost positive that you all access Facebook on your mobile phones regularly, and I want to know what you think about the future of the social networking website that we have all become so dependent on. How do you see Facebooks’s “sponsored stories” (advertising) appearing on mobile devices in, say, a year or two? Will we be seeing Zuckerberg purchase other popular mobile apps soon enough? Could we dream of a Facebook-manufactured smartphone? Let us know your thoughts.