Facebook’s iPhone and Android Apps Let You Find Friends From Your Phone Book, Grow the Site

Facebook for iPhone 3.4.1 released yesterday and Facebook for Android 1.5.3 released Monday both now allows users to “Find Friends” from their device’s contacts list and send them friend requests or invites to the site. This will help Facebook gain more users and create more connections between its existing users, increasing their loyalty and engagement. The updates also prompts users to add their phone number to their profile if they haven’t already, and Facebook for Android users can now tag friends in status updates.

The iPhone update builds on the recently released version 3.4 which added Event checkins, a Places map, and started pulling the news feed from m.facebook.com. The Android update follows 1.5.2, which added photo uploading to Groups and walls, and better landscape mode viewing.

Facebook’s Find Friends feature has been a staple of the website’s home page for years. When users import their contacts from their email provider, they’re shown a list of non-friends they can send requests or invites to join Facebook to. Facebook also uses the data to power friend suggestions for both the person who uploaded the contacts and the contacts on the list. While a fundamental part of to site’s growth and loyalty strategy, Facebook has also had to respond to German privacy concerns about the feature with changes.

Users can access Find Friends in Facebook for iPhone by clicking the Friends icon on the home screen, and then the arrow button in the top right corner. The app will then scan the device’s contacts list for phone numbers and email addresses that match other Facebook users who can be sent friend requests “Add” buttons next to each and an “Add All” button at the top. Then the flow reveals the device’s contacts that aren’t associated with a Facebook account that can similarly be sent invites to the site individually or all at once.

The Find Friends interface states that Facebook stores contacts, uses them for friend suggestions, and explains how to manage uploaded contacts in Account -> Edit Friends – > Invite Friends -> Manage Invites and Contacts. However, contacts from a user’s phone don’t seem to appear here after using the mobile Find Friends feature, so it’s unclear how they’re being used and whether users can remove them, which could stir more privacy concerns.

While relatively buried in the apps compared to its prominence on Facebook.com, Find Friends for iPhone lets Facebook tap into extraordinarily valuable data — a user’s list of phone numbers. Having stored someone’s number may be a better indicator of friendship than having emailed them, so these mobile iterations of Find Friends might help Facebook make more accurate friend suggestions than the web version.

These Facebook native mobile apps don’t allow users to edit their profiles, but the new updates can generate a special prompt asking users to add their phone number to their profile. The prompt appears to those who haven’t added their number via the web interface. The prompt explains “When your number is on your profile, friends can use Facebook to call you. Only friends will see it.”

By encouraging users to add their phone numbers, Facebook is looking to become a sort of cloud-phonebook. Being able to look up a Facebook friend’s number online or use the instant call or sms functions on the mobile apps significantly increases Facebook’s utility, and therefore engagement. The prompt’s language is designed to calm fears about privacy and make it seem natural and helpful to add one’s number.

Rather than just translate features from the web interface to the native apps, these Facebook for iPhone and Android update take advantage of the unique data users store on their phones. The addition of Find Friends to the smartphone apps will help augment Facebook’s mobile-centric developing world growth strategy. With daily active user counts of 39.5 million on Facebook for iPhone, and 23.7 million on Facebook for Android, the updates will draw new users in its core markets where these smartphones are popular, and make sure these users have plenty of friends to interact with.

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