Facebook’s said before that it’s interested in getting the 5 billion people in the world who lack internet access onto the Web. Of course, Facebook stands to gain from this because of its mobile advertising and mobile platform, so, like Google, it wants to increase its mobile presence (and thus, wants more users). At the same time, however, wanting to reach unreached people groups with Internet services is one thing; providing these unreached people groups with the means to internet access is another.
Today, Facebook launched its Internet.org Android app that provides a number of free services for users, such as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, AccuWeather for weather information, Go Zambia Jobs for employment, eZelibrary, and women’s resources such as MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action) and WRAPP (Women’s Rights App).
Zuckerberg and his team have joined with carrier Airtel to launch this free app with quite a few valuable (yet free) resources, but AirTel’s goal is to get users to decide to pay for some small data plan to go along with their free experience. Think of Airtel’s cooperation with Facebook as providing a freemium experience: if some user who knows little about the Internet decides to use Internet.org and likes his or her experience, he or she may decide to start paying for a small data plan on a monthly basis. Airtel hopes to provide these free services in an effort to get users who’ve never owned a data plan or ever used the Internet to see that they can have a good experience with Airtel.
While both Facebook and Airtel have profitability (long-term) as their reason to provide this free app and service, there’s another reason: to help unreached people see the value of the internet as something more than a leisure pursuit. As Internet.org’s product manager Guy Rosen says, “a lot of people don’t know what the Internet is. They don’t know what it could do for their lives and livelihood. It’s a vague concept.”
While Facebook will release the Internet.org Android app for developing countries at large, Zambia is the first recipient of Facebook’s benevolence (AirTel users). Facebook wrote on its Internet.org announcement page that the company will continue to improve the Internet.org resources and push the app until it makes its way to other parts of the world that, like Zambia, have unreached potential Internet users.
Interestingly enough, Google search is also included as part of Facebook’s free offering – but Facebook says that content providers don’t have to necessarily embrace Facebook’s goal (or even partner with the company) in order to provide free content for its users.