Facebook has acquired Face.com, a developer of facial recognition APIs and software apps.
Terms of the deal went undisclosed. A June 18 posting on Face.com’s corporate blog suggested that “the plan is to continue to support our developer community,” while neglecting to mention whether Face.com would remain a separate brand. Face.com apps include Photo Tagger, which identifies faces in Facebook albums and suggests possible tags.
Rumors in May suggested that Facebook was willing to pony up tens of millions of dollars—perhaps even $100 million—to snatch up the property.
Even at $100 million, Facebook will have taken Face.com for a fraction of the $1 billion it paid for Instagram. Nonetheless, both acquisitions highlight Facebook’s rabid interest in imagery, particularly in the mobile context.
In the wake of its IPO, Facebook faces (pun definitely intended) increased pressure to monetize its considerable user-base in new and more effective ways. Mobile devices, which are rapidly replacing PCs as the center of most people’s computing lives, are widely seen as the linchpin of those monetization efforts. If CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his executives can’t figure out a way to extract cash from Facebook on mobile devices without alienating users, it could prove devastating to the company’s longer-term prospects.
By purchasing Instagram, Face.com and other companies, Facebook adds major muscle to its imagery platform—which is, in turn, one of the key elements in the mobile experience. Users prize the ability to quickly take, alter, tag, and post photographs on the go; the question for Facebook is how to translate those impulses into cold, hard cash.
Even as it publicly struggles with mobility, Facebook is enjoying some uptake among businesses, with numerous third-party companies baking the social network into products aimed at the enterprise. Salesforce recently announced it would acquire Buddy Media, a social-marketing firm that lets users monitor a brand’s impact on Facebook, for $689 million. That came only a bit after Oracle paid a rumored $300 million for Vitrue, a cloud-based marketing and engagement platform that lets companies create Facebook landing pages with specialized apps and modules.
But even that segment comes with competitive risks for Facebook. Google recently announced plans to purchase Meebo, a vendor of social-networking tools for consumers and advertisers, with an eye toward buttressing the capabilities of its own Google Plus social network (which competes with Facebook). And as much as companies rely on Facebook for marketing and advertising, they give a serious look at Yammer, Chatter and other platforms when it comes to giving workers tools for collaboration.