Facebook rumour round up: Is a phone or new search engine in the offing?

A revamped Facebook mobile experience

The company has made no secret of the fact that it has some work to do to make Facebook a smoother and more enjoyable experience for mobile users.

To this end, the firm announced a mobile development push back in September, with the launch of a new Covent Garden-based engineering hub.

Speaking at the event, Philip Su, head of UK engineering at Facebook, said the firm's new UK engineering team would be focusing on "server-side enhancements" and new products to give mobile users a better experience.

"Everyone knows Facebook can make great improvements in [the] responsiveness of its mobile applications," said Su.

Mike Schroepfer, vice president of infrastructure at Facebook, backed Su's assertion, adding that users had expressed disappointment about the firm's mobile platforms because they lacked the "polish and performance" they have come to expect from the brand.

We provide a free product that people are under no obligation to use, so our primary aim is to add value.

"We provide a free product that people are under no obligation to use, so our primary aim is to add value [to encourage people to] use our products," he added.

Meanwhile, the firm is under pressure to make more money from its mobile operations, which has prompted some to speculate that Facebook could be planning to debut a new mobile ad platform or a service that would let users take part in intra-ecosystem calls.

Chances: In light of Su and Schroepfer' comments, it seems a new and improved mobile Facebook experience would be welcomed by users, but considering how publicly the firm has already spoken about this in the past would it really be worth holding a top secret press conference about?

As for the calling capability, that would make sense given the work Facebook has done to bolster its private messaging service in recent years, and would pit the firm against the likes of Skype and Whatsapp.

It would also ensure users spend even more of their free time on Facebook, which is sure to please advertisers.

Facebook search

Given the amount of data Facebook holds about its users and their habits, there is no denying the site represents a fantastic information source. This might explain why rumours have surfaced about the firm launching its own search engine.

The company has got into hot water in the past with privacy groups for the way it has reportedly tried to mine its users' data for advertising purposes, so it would have to tread carefully to prevent this happening again.

That aside, the potential for a Facebook search engine is huge. For example, it could allow users to tap into a collective "hive mind" in the same way Twitter does by letting them search for information about breaking news or events happening in their local area in real-time or simply pose questions to people they may not have a prior connection with.

Alternatively, it could simply involve a tweak of the site's current search capabilities, allowing users to scavenge for information beyond contacts, fan pages and local businesses to bring them content from areas of the web that are unaffiliated with Facebook.

Zuckerberg recently flagged search as an area of interest for the firm, which has only served to fuel rumours that Facebook might be planning to take on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft with a foray into search.

Chances:Tying social networking into search is something Google has been attempting for a while with its Google+ service, and would give Facebook users even less of an incentive to leave the site. Again, this is sure to delight its advertisers.

As mentioned, it would also pit the site against some pretty established rivals in the search space, (few of which have a user base to rival Facebook's, mind you) and a high-profile press event would be a good way of laying down the gauntlet to them.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.