For years, Facebook has been researching ways to get their popular application into the hands of those in the developing world. Nearly a decade ago they released Facebook Zero, a text-only version of their mobile application. Then there was Facebook for Everyone, the app created out of their acquisition of Snaptu, a feature phone app for the developing world.
Facebook however has continually run into problems with regard to the lacking availability of internet connections. The application used by over a billion people worldwide can be painfully slow on these networks, deeming the full version of Facebook almost entirely unusable.
As a remedy, this month Facebook has launched Facebook Lite, an Android application that has stripped away many features to allow the mobile app to perform on these slower networks. “Roughly a year back, that’s when we realized that our current Facebook experiences needed a lot more work, specifically in emerging markets and more specifically where networks are bad,” said Facebook Lite’s product manager Vijay Shankar.
In crafting the new application, Shankar and his team travelled to those areas where connecting to Facebook was slow, to determine how to best address the problem. After spending time in Africa, India and Indonesia, the team determined that the best way to reach those with slow connections and/or in developing countries was to strip the application down to less than 1MB to ensure installation is fast and quick to load information. As such here are some of the requirements they came to in their travels:
- Must be compatible with any Android smartphone, regardless of storage space, RAM, and CPU.
- Load quickly with 2G mobile connections, the speed close to 4 billion people on earth live with.
- Use as little data as possible, since they learned it’s not actually network access stopping most users from internet access – the cost of data plans is.
Many of Facebook core capabilities remain, which include the News Feed, notifications, status updates and uploading photos. However users of Facebook may notice the lower resolution on thumbnail photos but may enjoy the accelerated speed of the trimmed down application. This is because a primary way Facebook has cut down on the data usage is by never preloading full-resolution images. For example, the pictures or link preview thumbnails that appear in the News Feed look a little blurry at first. If the user taps on the image then it will load in full-resolution, but the goal for Facebook was to reduce big data pulls unless the user opts-in for them. Another example is if you try to upload a photo, Facebook Lite compresses the image and sends it in the background, which also conveniently cuts out the time users spend staring anxiously at the phone screen.
The release of Facebook Lite seems to be met with joy in the targeted countries. When testing the application in January, Facebook released the app in Bangladesh, Nepal and Nigeria. They received over 50,000 reviews from the test launch with an average star rating of 4.3, most of which were users asking when the app would be released in their country. Since the official launch on June 4, the app has over 60,000 reviews and hang on to the 4.3 average star rating.
What do you think of Facebook’s solution to reach these untapped markets? Let us know what you think in the comments below.