Open question: Why did Facebook buy Moves?

By Brian Dolan
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Brian Dolan, Editor, MobiHealthNewsLast Thursday's big news was that Facebook had acquired fitness tracking company ProtoGeo, maker of the popular passive tracking app, Moves, for an undisclosed sum. Both companies said that the paid app Moves would remain a separate offering -- for the forseeable future, at least -- and that the ProtoGeo team would also help work on Facebook's other products and develop new ones.

It's well-documented that Facebook is relatively acquisition-shy, especially when compared to companies like Google or Microsoft. While Facebook relied on so-called "acquihires" early on to build out its ranks, in the past year or two it has focused more on multi-billion dollar technology buys like Instagram and Oculus Rift. Facebook confirmed the obvious for the Wall Street Journal: The ProtoGeo deal was not a multi-billion dollar deal.

So was the Facebook-Moves deal yet another acquihire for the social networking company? Whether Moves remains in Facebook's growing suite of mobile app offerings will help answer that down the road, but ProtoGeo did announce that the Moves app will not "commingle" data with Facebook's platform. Facebook announced that the ProtoGeo team will help it develop other products. Sounds a bit acquihire-ish.

While that might be the cynical view, others seized on Facebook's buy as a sign that the company has embraced the fitness tracking trend.

Could some of the new products that ProtoGeo's team is working on include embedding Moves-like capabilities into Facebook's flagship mobile apps? Given Moves' passive tracking capabilities not just for fitness activities but also for auto-tracking where its users go, it's understandable why Facebook might be interested in Moves. Facebook's advertising platform currently banks on information that users manually share, and while many third party apps offer automatic updates to users' Facebook walls, Moves could help further automate Facebook posts from the company itself. 

The Moves app had about 4 million downloads at the time of its acquisition, according to Facebook. MobiHealthNews noted that Moves had 2.5 million downloads just a few weeks before ProtoGeo announced that it would start charging users a few dollars for the app. While it's just a back of the envelop calculation, the company likely brought in a few million dollars in revenue these past six months. Not bad for a crowded fitness tracking market, but inconsequential for Facebook.

Scripps Translational Science Institute's Director Dr. Eric Topol told MobiHealthNews in an interview last week that Facebook's acquisition of Moves was "pivotal".

"I've been waiting for this to happen -- the convergence of social media and sensors," Topol said. "It's so pivotal because eventually a lot of the stickiness and durability of [digital health] is tied to things like managed competition -- that competitive spirit we all have to one degree or another. That's something we haven't really tapped into yet in mobile health, but Facebook obviously has a pretty good potential to do that."

Topol said that in order to grow Facebook will have to branch out into areas like medicine and that the social networking company is something of a "sleeping giant" in terms of the impact it could have in healthcare. Is Moves its first step in that direction?

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