Facebook Lite Is Really About Future Business For Facebook

So. Facebook just announced that they plan to launch their Facebook Lite Android mobile app targeting the next billion users in emerging markets like Kenya and Africa. At first glance, Facebook Lite seems to be a pretty good idea since its a version of the Facebook Android mobile app that is designed specifically for low-end Android devices running on slow and expensive Internet connections that are typical in markets like Kenya and the rest of Africa. Hoorah!

Sorry. I am a little skeptical about Facebook Lite and ALL other initiatives (Google, I am looking at you too!) that come across as being ‘too good to be true and just for us’ in the world’s poorest countries – also referred to as the next billion. The reality is that smartphone growth has more or less flattened in most of the world’s more developed markets and therefore Africa is one of the key markets being targeted for future growth. Its inevitable. The only way is up when your still down there in the dirt – but growing like a weed.

Lets do the numbers, from a Kenyan perspective? Facebook has around 4.3 million users in Kenya as of this writing. The Communications Authority says there are an estimated 22 million Internet users implying over 50% penetration (which I personally suspect is overstated and not accurate). The Communications Authority also states that mobile Internet uptake is close to 15 million users which means that the majority of Internet use in the country is mobile-based. Current estimates also suggest that Safaricom has around 3.6 million subscribers on smartphones from a total of 22 million subscribers who are largely using inexpensive feature phones. If you factor in ALL the other mobile networks, Kenya should have anywhere from 4.5 to 5 million smartphone users. Think about it for a second. There is tremendous room for Facebook to grow to 10+ million users in Kenya.

Where am I going with all of this? Its simple. The next billion IS the future of the likes of Facebook. Facebook needs them MORE than they need Facebook. For many of the next billion, their first ‘on ramp’ to the Internet will be a mobile device. The mobile devices in question will be low-cost Android devices that retail for Kes. 5,000.00 (i.e. US$ 50.00) or less which is on par with feature phones from a pricing perspective. When the next billion use these Android devices, one of their first mobile apps will be Facebook. Its therefore imperative for Facebook that they provide an Android mobile app that delivers a quality experience even though high data costs and slow Internet speeds will be key considerations for the next billion

So what happens after the next billion are connected? Facebook will have incredibly detailed data-driven insights on these newly connected digital denizens. They will know who they are, what they do online, what they like and dislike, etc. This in turn will provide a hitherto unprecedented digital consumer market for brands to reach via Facebook’s incredibly precise digital advertising capabilities – leading to sales conversions – and ad dollars for Facebook’s advertising machine. So. In a nutshell. Its all about the future of providing better digital experiences for the next billion with the ultimate goal of eventually deriving commercial value from initiatives like Facebook Lite by ‘growing the pie’. Nuff said.

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