Facebook has announced plans to support the evolution of the mobile web by addressing three key factors that discourage developers from building mobile apps.
The first of these is the issue of app discovery, which the company tells us is tackled by Facebook Platform. By connecting your app to Open Graph, you make it discoverable for everyone using Facebook on their mobile. For example your app might make itself visible to other users by posting Timeline items.
Yesterday at Mobile World Congress, Facebook made two announcements intended to combat the problems of mobile browser fragmentation and payments. To help speed up the standardisation process, the company is joining the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group and donating a mobile browser test suite, Ringmark.
Bruce Lawson, standards evangelist at Opera, welcomed Facebook's input but emphasised the need for inclusivity: "The more test-suites there are, the better; it helps standards get implemented interoperably. That's why Opera is part of this group. Note that these things aren't scorecards – browsers on feature phones with 'low scores' aren't second-class citizens – that way of thinking treats millions of people for whom feature phones are their only access to the web as second-class citizens."
To assist with mobile payments, Facebook is partnering with mobile operators to simplify the process of making transactions, so that people can make app payments via operator billing. This progress is automatically enabled when you integrate Facebook's Pay Dialog into your app.
Developer and speaker Jonathan Stark told us Facebook is tackling the right issues, and stressed that sorting out payments will be key: "Discovery, fragmentation, and monetisation are well-known pain points amongst mobile web developers. If fact, they – along with performance and limited access to device APIs – are the ammunition used against the mobile web in the native vs web holy wars.
"Discovery and decreased fragmentation are nice, but monetisation is the game changer. Whoever cracks the code on frictionless mobile web purchases is going to find a large and receptive audience.
"I applaud the steps that Facebook have taken – they are welcome and sensible. That said, they are incremental improvements and I don't think mobile web developers will feel any real effects for a long time."
Mobile designer Jonathan Smiley also welcomed the developments, but didn't feel that Facebook has much to offer the mobile web in terms of design: "I think it's fantastic that they're helping the community here. I'd say that technical capability and business strategy are two of the three major roadblocks to a rich mobile web; the third is design. I'm not sure Facebook is the right group to foster better mobile web design but getting us closer is great. Props to Facebook."