Facebook links up with Vodafone on mobile platform

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Facebook took a new step into the mobile realm on Thursday, launching a platform for operators designed to make its social networking application work better on portable devices.

Facebook already offers a version of its service optimized for display on the Apple iPhone. Apple is promoting this capability in a new TV ad spot for the popular phone.

Vodafone is the first operator to use the Facebook for Mobile Operators platform and has started services in the U.K. and Germany, said Jed Stremel, Facebook's director of mobile division. Vodafone will soon expand the program to Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal.

The platform involves giving operators a set of technical specifications intended to resolve some of frustrating hang-ups when using Facebook on a mobile phone rather than a PC, such as smoothing out login problems and opening up other features, Stremel said.

The move by Facebook, which ranks next to MySpace as one of the most popular social networking sites, is intended to grow its user base, which the company estimates at 64 million users. So far, the company says it has 6 million users of Facebook Mobile, an unsupported mobile version of the Web site that will now get full support, Stremel said.

At the moment the mobile site does not have any advertising. Stremel would not reveal the financial details of Facebook's deal with Vodafone, although he said operators will be able to generate revenue from data services as their subscribers access Facebook.

The long-term hope for social networking sites is rich online advertising revenue. Facebook, which has an exclusive deal with Microsoft to place ads on the site, also did not say when it would put advertising on the mobile site.

The company is hoping to lure more operators by the simplicity with which they can enable Facebook, Stremel said.

Facebook has created special Web pages with instructions on how operators can set up their systems, he said. The instructions, for example, let operators add system settings that will let their subscribers send MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) with photos or video to their Facebook profiles, Stremel said.

The platform also includes other specifications designed to stop abuse of Facebook, such as spamming, Stremel said. When someone sends their first MMS with a photo to their profile, the user is sent back a confirmation message with a code or a link. That confirmation then links that person's phone with their Facebook account, Stremel said.

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