Mark Zuckerberg, the ever baby-faced creator of Facebook, the world’s biggest communication product, took to the stage of this this year’s MWC keynote stage, to explain his vision of “connecting the world”.
After Facebook reached the milestone of one billion users, he said, the company “took a step back”. As you would. And asked itself, “What is it we want to do? What problem can we solve next?”. This led to Zuckerberg’s plan to create Internet.org – a partnership between Facebook and a number of eco-system partners, to create what he referred to as a “911 service for the Internet”, offering basic services such as weather, food prices, Wikipedia, messaging and, naturally, basic social networking. Facebook, if you hadn’t guessed.
The project would act as a free ‘”on ramp” to the Internet to get people connected.He said that most people in the world are not online, and that it was actually not growing as fast a rate as you might imagine.
In an astute observation he said that the reason that many people who aren’t online is not necessarily because they are not in a Internet coverage area, but because they can’t see how paying to get online would actually help them. The basic service, that would be, as he repeatedly put it, “free or really cheap”, one or two dollars a month, would provide a low barrier of entry for those people.
He said that it has started this work with a partner called ‘Globe’ in the Philippines and that in a very short time span Internet usage had doubled, proving that it works.
So why should operators want to get involved? Zuckerberg admitted that he did not have a solid business case for them. Oh.
“There’s no clear way I can say it will be good for Facebook, but it will be good for the world.” That’s why he started Facebook, he said. “I never really cared if it would make money”- which is probably quite easy to say if you’re a gazillionaire.
He did offer a crumb of hope up to the operators though. He said there were three things that would make the Internet more efficient. Firstly decreasing the cost of infrastructure and spectrum costs, secondly, making data use more efficient through smart compression and device-specific targeting and thirdly through ‘upsell’, where Facebook is free, but users pay the operator to access content that is linked out of Facebook. That third one is sure to prick up the ears of the operators as it sounds like a real revenue opportunity.
It’s clear though that Zuckerberg’s vision is Facebook-centric. After all, one could not imagine he’d be quick so enthusiastic about connecting the world if there was no social network element to it.
So is it a cynical ploy or is Zuckerberg the saintly connector of the multitude? Who knows. Either way, the operators won’t really care about feeding the five billion data, as long as someone pays, and that it won’t be them left bearing the cost.