Regular UNTETHER readers were likely not surprised by Facebook’s recent acquisition of Glancee , and not only because seemingly every company interviewed on UNTETHER.tv gets acquired soon after. We have been paying close attention to Facebook’s revamped mobile strategy, which I have dubbed buy all the things: if you can’t beat the potential disruptions to your business, you better buy them. Recently, this has meant Gowalla, Instagram, Glancee, and now Lightbox, which was acquired just yesterday.
But buying a suite of mobile companies is just the first step. What is Facebook going to do with them?
Comparing the four, Instagram stands apart in prominence and the fact that, of the four acquisitions, it was the only one that did not result in the service being shut down. We’ve spoken at length about Facebook and Instagram, so I won’t rehash it here, but I will state that I consider the Lightbox acquisition to be an aftershock of that decision. As a straight acquihire in which Facebook took only the Lightbox team, but not the company nor the user data (Lightbox says it will open source much of its code on Github), it is safe to assume that the move was done to support the small Instagram team in some way, either in Facebookifying Instagram, Instagraming Facebook, or perhaps porting Instagram to more platforms. Facebook succeeds by being everywhere, and the Instagram team, until now, has simply not had the resources to meet such a platform agnostic demand.
Glancee’s acquisition is quite similar to the Gowalla acquisition: a LoMoSo app with a limited user base that was ultimately shuttered in favour of absorbing the team into the Facebook mothership. I believe this similarity is more than coincidence and points to a potential pairing of the two teams to create a LoMoSo super app that helps people better connect with friends, businesses, and brands nearby.
As I have written previously, Facebook likely has two approaches it can take to fix its lackluster mobile experience: copy Path and develop a beautiful, mobile-first Facebook app, or build a suite of hyper-focused apps that distills the Facebook experience to its essentials: photos, friends, messaging, etc.. Because Path at the scale of the Facebook user base would likely be as overwrought as Facebook is now, and because Facebook already kinda has a suite of mobile apps (Facebook Prime, Facebook Messenger, and now Instagram), I believe it makes more sense for them to choose the latter path.
A quick look at the gaps in Facebook mobile apps portfolio indicates how compelling a separate and dedicated LoMoSo app could be. While the desktop Facebook experience offers a useful way for users to engage with brands (or is it the other way around?), this has yet to be recreated in the real world, on a street to street level; enter Gowalla. Further, Facebook users currently require an intermediary app to alert them when friends are nearby, which is exactly what Glancee was prior to acquisition. As Glancee co-founder Alberto Tretti told Rob in a recent UNTETHER.tv interview, LoMoSo is about the places AND the people. A Facebook powered Glancewalla app would provide both.
But wait, you say, didn’t I state in the recent foursquare WTM? podcast that it’s very hard for a LoMoSo app to do everything well? Yes, I did, and I believe that foursquare is a great example of a LoMoSo app fine tuning its offering by reducing the social focus in favour of Yelp-style location recommendations (albeit ones still powered by friends). Confronted with building a new social network or a great location service for discovering cool places, foursquare seems to be choosing the latter.
But Glancewalla doesn’t need to build a social network, it just has to seamlessly integrate the social network that owns it. Unlike foursquare, Glancewalla wouldn’t have to worry about getting more brands, business, or people onboard to grow the service because everyone is onboard with Facebook; Glancewalla just has to turn on LoMoSo for Facebook users in a convenient way, and wait for every brand, business, payment system, etc., to line up for integration.
Of course, building the perfect people and places app isn’t as easy as I make it seem. But Glancewalla doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to feel inevitable; people already use their Facebook account for everything online, and they’re waiting for a way to use it everywhere else. I find it hard to believe that two great mobile development houses, backed by Facebook’s resources and social graph, will fail to deliver.