Dumb ideas? Facebook to buy Opera? Build own smartphone?

Rumors have it that Facebook is considering buying the company behind the Opera Web browser and it's working on its own smartphone.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Facebook looks pretty the same on Opera as it does on any Web browser.

Facebook looks pretty the same on Opera as it does on any Web browser.

According to Pocket-lint, sources close to Facebook have told them that the newly IPOed social networking company is considering buying Opera Software, the Opera Web browser's parent company. Another rumor has it that Facebook wants to build its own smartphone. I don't see either move making a lot of sense.

If Facebook were to buy Opera Software, its price might be on the same order as the billion plus it paid for Instagram. Opera currently has a market cap of $679-million. In addition, Opera has a small, but loyal, number of users. Still, loyal as they may be, Opera has long trailed Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari in sheer number of users. In April 2012, by StatCounter's numbers, Opera only had 1.72% of the world Web browser market. This leaves it, as it has been for years, solidly in last place in the Web browser derby.

In short, Facebook certainly wouldn't be increasing its market-share with its own Web browser. Heck, Facebook doesn't even list Opera as one of its supported browsers.

Perhaps you're thinking that it might be nice to have a Web browser that's designed to make the most of Facebook. That does sound plausible... until you remember that there already is a Web browser just for Facebook: RockMelt.

RockMelt takes Google's open-source Chromium Web browser code, which powers Chrome, and pairs it up with Facebook, Twitter, and RSS integration to produce a dedicated social-network Web browser. It may sound good, but after being out for a year and a half, RockMelt still has a microscopic market-share. Flock, a similar social-networking browser, was discontinued last year and it has more market-share—a big 0.02%--than RockMelt does. No one is beating the doors down for a Web browser that's optimized just for social networking.

Might someone be interested in a smartphone just for Facebook then? According to the New York Times, a Facebook employee said, "Mark [Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO] is worried that if he doesn’t create a mobile phone in the near future that Facebook will simply become an app on other mobile platforms."

Ah... and the problem with that is?? It's just a Web site. A very popular Web site, but still, it's just a Web site. Yes, you can use apps for it instead, but so what? I don't feel any need to trade my Droid smartphone in for a Facebook, eBay or Yahoo phone. Do you?

On the other hand, until recently Opera was the number one mobile Web browser. It might make some sense to have a paired Facebook smartphone and mobile Web browser.

And, lest we forget Facebook does have Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO. You know, the same guy who decided that Instagram was worth a billion bucks. So, why not? It's not like Zuckerberg has to answer to either his stockholders or his board. He doesn't. If Zuckerberg wants to waste a few billion on a dedicated Facebook smartphone and Web browser there's nothing to stop him.

I, for one, just don't see a lot of sense in either move. Facebook is just a popular Web site. Seriously, why would anyone want a Web browser or mobile device just for it when hundreds of millions of Facebook users use it every day with existing Web browsers and devices?

Related Stories:

Chrome beats Internet Explorer in global Web browser race

Stick a fork in the Facebook IPO, it’s done

Don’t be a Facebook IPO idiot

The number one mobile Web browser: Google’s native Android browser

Chrome 19: The Best Web browser just keeps getting better

Editorial standards