To give its employees a taste of slow internet and close the “empathy gap” between Silicon Valley and emerging markets, Facebook is launching a new initiative called “2G Tuesdays.”
Recalling the first time he opened Facebook on a 2G connection, Engineering director Tom Alison said, “I felt like, ‘Whoa! It definitely tested my patience – it felt like parts of the product were just broken.” He also added, this initiative will help engineers “see the places that they need to improve our product, but they’re also going to see the places where they have made a lot of progress.”
He maintained that although most people with smartphones in the US use faster 3G or even 4G connections, millions of people all over the world are coming online for the first time with 2G. With that kind of connection, a webpage can take over 2 minutes to load. That’s why he and his team of emerging markets engineers have spent so much time reworking Facebook’s News Feed to optimize it for super-slow network speeds. As part of their job, they regularly use phones that simulate 2G and actually take trips to places like India and Kenya to get a better understanding of how people there use the product.
Facebook’s penetration in the West is way higher as compared to its popularity in the developing countries. In 2014, only 8.25% of India’s population was on Fb, a number much lower than UK (56.58%) and US (56.45%). Hence, focusing on developing economies has become an imperative for the company. However, capturing these markets will be a tough nut to crack, given the poor tech infrastructure in these areas, and Facebook is absolutely aware of this fact. Therefore, it is actively promoting its internet.org, claiming to let those in developing nations access highly-optimized webpages for free. Nevertheless, what one must not forget that in this process, the ultimate decision maker who holds the keys to who is let in, is Facebook, a practice which goes against the concept of “net neutrality.”