Last year was a big year for Facebook at Mobile World Congress. Mark Zuckerberg shared his plans for Internet.org and talked about Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp, the mobile messaging platform.
If you didn’t know, Internet.org is an initiative by Facebook that brings together social, tech leaders, nonprofits, and emerging communities to bring the internet to the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have data access.
This year, Zuckerberg gave an inside look on the progress and learnings of Internet.org:
Connecting people first and foremost
Facebook helps facilitate the process of people connecting with other people. And that’s the inspiration behind Internet.org. By working with operators and tech leaders, Facebook is enables people to have access to each other. That access lets folks talk to the ones you love, get educated, and find jobs. It gives businesses the tools to connect to their loyal consumers. The power in connecting people to people is far greater than any broadband or wifi connection out there.
If you build it…
Zuckerberg touched on the power of connecting people by sharing a story of his travels and, particularly, a stop in Jakarta, where a “cyber village” was created. Citizens of a rural area outside the city rallied around their government to get connectivity. An internet hub was created and, over a period of time, people from the rural area gravitated towards and created a small town and community around this data access point. More towns sprang up too as more and more internet connectivity was brought to the area. It created small, thriving economies that hadn’t existed before.
Bring it Google
Zuckerberg was asked if he and his company would ever work directly with Google to strengthen their efforts to bring people online. The answer? Yes. And they’ve already created partnerships through Internet.org and brought access to Google Search in Zambia. Zuckerberg addressed that the media likes to paint a war of empires amongst the companies. In reality, 90% of people on Earth live within range of a data network. They just don’t have the means to access the internet, which Internet.org helps solve. The war of blimps, satellites, and lasers all claiming to be the first to beam internet access across the world is mostly just an overzealous media.
We’re Not an Operator
Zuckerberg made it very clear that they’re not in the carrier/operator business. They’re a social company at the core, leading developing countries and cities to gain access to data via other operator and tech partner relationships. Operators will and have to evolve. And they are. They’ve gone from business operators who provide voice and messaging to data and services. Operators need the right regulatory environments to achieve their goals and far too many times do they get left out of current regulatory actions or business models that help other small businesses achieve their goals.
Facebook drives data usage
Facebook drives data usage. If you ask yourself how much data you’re consuming by just using your Facebook app alone, chances are you have no idea. For a lot of people in developing markets, it’s an onboarding process to get exposed to the internet. For them, the first time they really use data is texting or voice messaging, so they buy a plan for that. As they wish to stay in contact on the regular, that’s when Facebook kicks in as the social media to provide this real-time, always-on social coverage. And from there, the new users are adding data or buying data on their operating plans. And thus developing a marketing framework.
But wait a second! Are you raising an eyebrow too? These are people in developing countries, where every penny counts. Data is expensive. Is this the right model? Is data that valuable in protecting our social relationships? There is still a lot of of work Internet.org is doing. Let’s just hope everyone is in it for the right gain, and not counting so heavily on the revenue building that comes as a result of getting new users to purchase data plans.