Facebook Lite App: Tapping Next One Billion Users [interview for DazeInfo — repost]
Mid last year, I had the opportunity to interview Vijay Shankar, the Global Product Manager of Facebook Lite. According to its own report of Q2 2015, of the 1,490 Million Monthly Active Users(MAUs) Facebook had, 1314 Million accessed Facebook through mobile phones.
Some interesting facts he revealed seemed part of a well thought out plan, however seemed a bit late considering the internet usage penetration and bandwidth speeds were on the high. Then again, Facebook Lite was for the millions of new users who would be accessing Facebook on slower phones and slower connections.
Size Does Matter
Firstly the size of the Facebook Lite app is way below 1MB; 430KB (when launched) to be precise. Its slim size and structure also enables faster access of Facebook over the rather retarded 2G connections which is what most non-urban users get access to.
“Over 875 million people across the world access Facebook over 2G. Majority of these users belong to emerging markets. We want to provide seamless experience of Facebook to all of these people on their mobile devices, just like the other hundred of million users, who are accessing Facebook current official app on high speed mobile internet.”
Device and Bandwidth Agnostic
With the app requiring less memory and CPU processing speeds of the phone, the app would, needless to say, work on even low end phone models. And considering non-urban areas are persistently fighting fast internet availability issues, the app performs fairly well on lower network speeds as well.
Where All Who All
In India alone 125 Million people use Facebook every month. While targeting the next billion people coming from developing countries, Facebook had to be made fairly open, connected and the frills that most users were not using much, were to be dropped to make the app lighter and give the best experience to everyone.
Facebook Lite started being built from Jan 2015 and tested it in countries like Africa and South East Asia and gathered feedback. After an overwhelming response form the initial trails, the app experience was perfected before officially launching it on 4th June 2015 for other countries to use.
Everyone Loves Videos
Version one of the Facebook Lite app does not have Videos as its important to get Video right. 2G performance, working on slower phones and using less data were all considerations that could not be compromised. While that is not yet present, it is being worked on and will be soon made available.
IMHO, the point here is not just that people from smaller cities watch more videos on their mobiles, it is also that probably the first computing device most of these people have access to is a mobile. More so, being used to motion pictures and films as the primary medium smaller city and rural folk have been exposed to from the TV era, video certainly becomes the primary source of information and entertainment that can be rather easily interpreted even by those who have lesser education or training.
Growth Vs User Experience — What’s More Important?
To provide the best possible experience to those who are already using Facebook is the primary lookout, then comes making it easier for those who would be first-timers. In the future, the features would be governed by the feedback Facebook receives from the users of Facebook Lite.
The kinds of issues that have been shared over time by users are of the app loading back as minimized, inability to tag people on photos, lack of notifications, auto scrolling, etc. apart from crashing of course. Some improvements for reliability and speed have been announced, however that seems to have had not much of an impact on the feedback.
When I tested the Facebook Lite App on a slower phone, the app crashing or getting hung while performing some simple tasks such as scrolling, updating status, searching for people in my network or checking other profile albums, coaxed me into uninstalling it and keeping the bulkier Facebook App, which I must admit was a lot faster and smoother.
The Facebook Lite App though simpler, lighter and neat, would require quite some refining before it appeases the people who are used to the rather fuller Facebook App. And considering the smartphones becoming less expensive and more armored by the day, the Facebook Lite app would only find fancy in those who are migrating from the web experience to an app experience while not having to pay up for a better phone.
If you have any experiences that you would like to share, kindly write in response and educate the readers.