a free and open world depends on a free and open Internet...
— Vint Cerf

Quartz recently confirmed that millions of Facebook users have no idea that they're using the Internet. It seems that they have no perception of the Internet, only Facebook. The trend was initially noted three years ago by a researcher at LIRNEasia whilst surveying Indonesian’s about their Internet usage. They key conclusion? “It seemed that in their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook.”


The trend has also be repeated in Africa with recent research identifying that the number of respondents saying they used Facebook was much higher than those who said they used the Internet.

At the recent World Economic Meeting in Davos, Sheryl Sandberg announced that in the developing world, "people will walk into phone stores and say 'I want Facebook.' People actually confuse Facebook and the Internet in some places." 

For many, their first interaction with connected services and sharing is Facebook - they simply aren't aware of the possibilities of the broader Internet.

Facebook is attempting to appeal to developing nations in a number of ways:

  • Facebook announced in their latest quarterly results that 85% of their monthly active users connect via mobile devices. To provide connectivity in developing nations, Facebook has developed a lite version of their app for areas with low quality data connections and high usage of low end Android devices. The lite app requires just 250 Kilobytes of storage (compared to the full version's 25 Megabytes) and is designed to work in areas with 2G data network coverage. The app has been released in developing countries including Bangladesh, Nigeria, Nepal, Sudan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
  • Pricing is a significant factor, in India you can purchase a data plan that provides access only to Facebook for $2.50 per year.
  • Finally, Facebook is also planning solar powered drones to provide cheap Internet access to the two thirds of the world that currently have no access.

Connecting the next billion users to the Internet is a noble cause, but that Internet should be unfiltered and open - not enclosed via a proprietary platform.

Additional Quartz surveys found that many respondents "never" follow links out of Facebook. If one service has the vast majority of user engagement, it follows that content, advertisers, application creators and other services  will all flow to that service, possibly to the exclusion of other platforms.

As Vint Cerf (one of the founders of the Internet and currently working on the Interplanetary Internet) noted, "a free and open world depends on a free and open Internet".  Openness and connectivity has driven online innovation over the past few decades and will be required to continue to do so.


Walled garden - a software system where the service provider has control over applications, content, and media, and restricts convenient access to non-approved applications or content. This is in contrast to an open platform, where consumers have unrestricted access to applications, content, and much more. (Wikipedia)
 


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