Thursday, October 25, 2007

Facebook & RIM Join Forces

Thursday, October 25, 2007 7:00 AM PDT

College parties met business e-mail on Wednesday as Facebook Inc. said it is adding its social-networking platform to Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices.

T-Mobile USA Inc. will be the first carrier to build a Facebook application into the BlackBerries it sells, but BlackBerry users on any network will be able to download the application starting later Wednesday, Facebook Co-Founder and Vice President of Engineering Dustin Moskovitz said in a keynote address at the CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment show in San Francisco.

In the keynote, Moskovitz demonstrated taking a photo with a BlackBerry Curve device, adding tags to it and posting it to Facebook without even starting up the Facebook application. Other features include the ability to set special ringtones for Facebook events and invite friends to join Facebook through BlackBerry e-mail. But it's the open nature of Facebook's platform, which allows third parties to add new applications, that sets the company apart, Moskovitz said.

The tie-up brings together the highest profile social-networking player, with almost 50 million active users, and an enterprise mobile pioneer vying for market share against Microsoft Corp., Palm Inc., Symbian Ltd., Apple Inc. and other device and OS vendors. Executives of the two companies met at the CTIA Wireless Show in March in Orlando and agreed to work together, Moskovitz said. Openness is the key factor they had in common, he said.

Starting from a base of thousands of colleges and high schools, Facebook last year opened its network to anyone, and members over 35 years old are the fastest-growing segment, Moskovitz said. RIM has its roots in corporate e-mail tied to specialized enterprise servers, so the partnership could help Facebook grow right where it's catching up.

The announcement came as Microsoft was buying a $240 million minority stake in Facebook, a purchase that values the company at about $15 billion.

Facebook also announced a few other advances in the mobile arena, where it expects to have 4 million active users by the end of this month. There are Facebook services available on most major U.S. and Canadian carriers, and Moskovitz announced its first carrier deal outside North America, with O2 (U.K.) Ltd.

One extension announced Wednesday lets users add information from third-party Facebook applications as a box in their mobile profiles. As an example, Moskovitz showed a user's profile that listed two causes he supports. Another extension lets organizations text-message Facebook members to send a text message in support of a cause. The member's support is immediately reflected on Facebook on the Web, he said.

Social networking has to move to mobile to reach users where they are, especially younger people, and Facebook seems to be leading larger rival MySpace in getting there, analysts said.

"If you didn't build out your mobile capabilities, you would be losing out to those that have that functionality, as mobile becomes more important to people's experience," said Greg Sterling, of Sterling Market Intelligence, in Oakland, California.

By making its platform more open to third parties, Facebook is making it easier for mobile developers to get involved, said Eddie Hold, of Current Analysis Inc.

Facebook has also set up its services for the iPhone's full Web browser, creating a special site for use with the device. Sterling believes the Microsoft deal announced Wednesday will include a mobile component, too.