If you can't keep up with Facebook's identity crisis, you aren't alone. After claiming over and over that it would get serious about mobile - and then debuting an entirely un-mobile product at a press conference earlier this week - the company is now tacking on one more feature to its collector's set of mobile apps: free phone calls over the Internet.
The Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, launched earlier for Canada, eschews traditional telecom carriers but will still count against your mobile data plan if you're not on Wi-Fi. The feature is now available on Facebook's dedicated Messenger iOS app, one of the single-purpose apps in the company's increasingly cluttered mobile utility belt.
Facebook's well-known "Move fast and break things" motto is well enough suited for the Web - but spewing out a flood of not quite fully baked ideas won't work for mobile. The voice calling update is just the most recent example.
Mobile updates are user-initiated and deliberate by design. Even on a platform like Android with automatic updating enabled, downloading a mobile update feels like unwrapping a new, slightly less buggy present. But apps that constantly push tiny new updates quickly get annoying, even if they don't require much more attention than a progress bar in a notification drop-down menu.
And redundant apps like Messenger and the main Facebook app? That's just twice as many notifications to wrangle. Not to mention a confusing roadblock to the otherwise split-second choice of which app to open for a given task. Facebook's sheer scope can be an Achilles heel: Facebook is big - look at all the stuff it does! It's a Foursquare, and a Yelp and a Snapchat... and who knows what else. No wonder the company is struggling to define itself on mobile. It's suffering from mobile Yahoo syndrome. As in, nobody knows what kind of company Yahoo is - least of all Yahoo.
The Department Of Redundancy Department
On the Web, we mostly don't notice Facebook's weekly waves of teensy product tweaks. The company's hacker ethos shines in its perpetual tinkering and improvements. But on mobile the same approach can get messy - and it already has.
Facebook wants to have it both ways. It wants to mash stuff like search, messaging, photo sharing and check-ins up into a one-stop shop for its billion-plus members. But it also wants us to use its strange little umbrella of mobile apps and the main Facebook app - have your app and eat it too! The approach is confusing, the internal redundancies are piling up and Facebook's mobile product strategy is starting to feel like a junk drawer. Everything you need is in there somewhere, but it's a wreck and you can never seem to find the AAA batteries when you need them.
Do It Like Instagram
But you know who does mobile updates right?
When Instagram is primed for its tiny download progress bar to inch toward the right, users actually get excited. Updates are polished and cohesive, with just enough lag time between pushes to make Instagrammers water at the mouth while they wait for the bell to sound. If only Facebook would peer over the proverbial cubicle wall and steal a few notes from its billion-dollar baby.