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Facebook Zero: Web Chang’aa for Africa

By Wayan Vota on February 22, 2010

As we’ve already discussed, Facebook is driving ICT adoption in Africa. Just look at the amazing statistic that Moses Kemibaro found: 2 million Kenyans are registered with Facebook, 80% of all Kenyan Internet users.

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Facebook on Mobile Phones

What’s even more amazing about Facebook statistics in Africa is that much of that usage is on mobile phones. A recent Opera Mini report looked at their top 10 African countries, and found that with their users, Facebook is the most popular site in 6 out of 10 countries and the #2 site in three of the countries where it is not #1.

And that dominance is when mobile Internet users are constrained by limited and expensive data plans. Now Facebook is about to leap ahead on mobile phones with a free version of its site.

Facebook Zero

For all those that want to visit Facebook, but are constrained by download caps, I give you Facebook Zero. As TechCrunch reports:

It’s basically a text-only version of the Facebook service that carriers can offer to their subscribers at no charge. If a user then decides to switch from text-only to multimedia (e.g. view photos from their friends), mobile operators can start charging them for ‘premium’ data service.

This system is apparently called zero-rated pages, and allows operators to use a trimmed down version of a web application as a sort of teaser, driving the adoption of certain mobile services or apps, and more data usage revenue down the line.

Facebook Zero as web chang’aa

Now what happens when you make Africa’s most popular website free to access on mobile phones? You will have an explosion in web use beyond all imagination. The charts on Facebook adoption will stop being slopes and become straight lines – straight up.

And like chang’aa, jobs will be lost, marriages will break up, and all manner of parents and elders will claim its a blight on the land. Unlike actual chang’aa, Facebook Zero will also have a positive effect – its gonna increase demand for full Internet services and the computers that can support it.

All those Facebook users will want news, ecommerce, employment, and education websites, in addition to social networking. Yes, mobile phones will lead in usage by far. But make no mistake, those that get addicted to Facebook on mobiles will want the full screen upgrade – for Facebook and all the other Internet destinations. And they’ll want it. Right. About. Now.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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One Comment to “Facebook Zero: Web Chang’aa for Africa”

  1. Wayan Vota says:

    From the Facebook Lite page:

    “Thanks to everyone who tried out Facebook Lite. We’re no longer supporting it, but learned a lot from the test of a slimmed-down site. If you used Lite, you’ll now be taken to the main Facebook.com site.”

    Let’s hope Facebook Zero doesn’t suffer the same fate