Christopher Mims has a well researched article on Facebook’s plan to find its next billion users and convince them the internet and Facebook are the same. He has great data points and graphics from around the developing world to point out Facebook’s amazing reach and purposeful focus on recruiting new users:
In the Philippines, says Eagle, “Facebook is literally becoming the internet.” At the end of 2011, according to Nielsen Research, a third of the country’s citizens were on the internet, or 33.6 million people. Today, the number of Facebook users in the Philippines is 29.4 million. The leading regional handset manufacturer, MyPhone, incorporates Facebook’s logo into its advertising, which includes a popular teen musical group that raps about Facebook in viral videos on YouTube.
As a result of that post, I recently had an enlightening conversation with Leo Gaggl on Google Plus. He was pittying those new Facebook users, feeling that they might equate Facebook with the Internet, akin to those who thought AOL was the Internet in the 1990s. He says:
It’s comparable to convincing people McDonald’s is real food. And as we all know in the long run it can be quite bad for your health. However for a person starving I am sure McDonald’s would be better than no food.
Rather than a McDonalds analogy, I see the millions who use Facebook as their first online experience akin to those that learn how to swim in a pool vs. the ocean. A pool is a nice, controlled environment when you are still scared of the water, but damn boring once you are skilled. The ocean is much more fun, and I believe that’s where the good Internet swimmers will go once they get the basic swim strokes down.
So rather than be disappointed that Facebook might be the Internet in the minds of several hundred million people, I celebrate Facebook’s lure to get people online. Remember, there may be 43 million Facebook users in Africa, but that’s only a 4.0% penetration rate. There is still 96% of a continent waiting to swim.