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Facebook readies a blitz of new products

Mark Milian
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Facebook 'likes' Skype
  • Facebook kicks off what CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls "Launching Season"
  • Over the next few months, Facebook plans to launch a slew of new features
  • Facebook operated on a similar schedule last year

Palo Alto, California (CNN) -- Elmer Fudd has "Wabbit Season," and Mark Zuckerberg has just kicked off "Launching Season."

Facebook is readying a slew of new products to debut soon, said Zuckerberg, the company's CEO, at a news conference here on Wednesday. Programmers have been toiling away this year on several major projects in anticipation of this acceleration period.

"We've been busy building stuff for the past six months or so, and today marks the beginning of what we'll call Launching Season 2011," Zuckerberg said. "Over the next coming weeks and months, we just have a lot of fun stuff to roll out."

The starting gun for this stage of frequent product updates sounded at Wednesday's event, which served as a launch pad for new messaging tools. People will be able to make video calls on Facebook's site, thanks to a partnership with Skype, and create impromptu chat rooms.

To keep the new features rolling in anticipation of a launching season, Facebook sets tight deadlines on development teams. Facebook software engineers often find themselves working nights and weekends during these periods.

They aren't directly asked to work after-hours, Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin wrote in an e-mail. "But people do work to get things out the door as fast as possible," she wrote.

Last fall was very busy for Facebook. The company convened reporters for three news conferences during a four-week span in October and November.

The release cycle began ramping up in August last year, for the f8 developers conference. Facebook plans to hold another one this year, though it hasn't set a date yet, Chin said.

Facebook teams "went into lockdown mode" in June, "when the engineers basically had to work weekends through summer," said Ray Valdes, an Internet analyst for Gartner Research.

"They work furiously in spring and early summer, and release in the end of summer, early fall," Valdes said. "There must be some internal clock."

While the clock isn't tuned precisely to last year's ticker, Zuckerberg's acknowledgement of the practice could suggest a new trend for the fledgling company.

Many tech giants operate in cycles. Apple, for example, has gotten into the habit of releasing new iPads in the spring, iPhones in the summer and iPods in the fall. (Apple appears to be breaking with tradition this year, however, as it's expected to debut a new iPhone in the fall.)

In the tech industry, companies "are always looking for the right moment" to unleash their products, said Susan Etlinger, an analyst for consulting firm Altimeter Group. Facebook may be settling into a groove.

That Facebook is defining a product strategy, with an emphasis on improving the service, rather than on simply signing up additional members, shows maturity, Etlinger said. The timing is right because the site may be nearing a saturation point, with 750 million active users.

"Facebook should be hyperaware, and I think they are aware of how their business is shifting," Etlinger said.

As part of Facebook's recent growth spurt, the company has hired developers to specialize in coding computer software. Facebook also seems poised to release an iPad application in the next few weeks, according to a report in The New York Times.

Other projects in the works include a revamped Web-based version of Facebook for smartphones, which will let third-party developers easily shrink their Facebook apps and run them on a phone, as well as a sleek app for sharing photos, according to reports from the blog TechCrunch. Mobile is an important area where Facebook can grow, Zuckerberg and analysts agree.

As Google tries to gain a toehold in social networking with Google+ and Myspace operates under a new corporate parent, Facebook is amassing an arsenal of features to unleash in the next few months.

Zuckerberg seems confident that he has ample ammunition to fend off the competition, but is there a Buggs Bunny lying in wait?


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