The developing world wants Facebook, and its accessibility initiative Internet.org could pay huge dividends. Those are the takeaways from Facebook’s announcement that it now has 100 million active users in Africa, and 80% of those come on mobile. That 100 million makes up 50% of all Africans connected to the Internet.
The news suggests that if drones, satellites, and deals for free access from local carriers can spread the Internet to more people around the world in places like India and South America, a big percentage of them will become consistent Facebook users. It’s not just smartphone-wielding Westerners that want the social network. Even if it means quantifying one’s life by likes, being social without face-to-face interaction, and giving up data for ad targeting, people all over the world are eager to connect with friends and family through Facebook.
Facebook’s announcement of the 100 million user milestone gives more detail to its typical earnings report user growth breakdowns, which lump Africa into a big “Rest Of World” region that had 411 million active users as of the end of Q2 2014. To put the 50% penetration rate of Facebook amongst Internet-connected Africans, Facebook a 71% penetration rate in the US and Canada region, or 204 million users out of 283.7 million.
The fact that 80% of the Facebook users in Africa are connecting via mobile on mobile suggests the continent has largely leapfrogged laptops and is doing a great deal of its computing on small screens.
The news comes just a month after Facebook’s telecom partnership to bring Internet to the 5 billion people still disconnected debuted its Internet.org app in Zambia, Africa. The Android app and mobile site offers free access to a set of “basic” Internet services like Wikipedia, Google search, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, as well as local resources about human rights, women’s rights, and civic engagement. African telecom Airtel fully subsidizes the data charges in hopes that Internet.org’s app will prove to people the value of the Internet, and convince them to buy a subscription to the whole web.
The barrier to Internet usage in much of Africa is not access to phones or a data connection, but the prohibitively high cost of data plans. That’s why Facebook is working on these types of free Internet carrier deals as well as ways to lower data expenditures through improved transmission efficiency.
As the company writes “We know that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when it comes to building products and solutions that address diverse local needs around the world, which is why we’re committed to crafting solutions specifically for high-growth markets.” Those include shrinking its Android app to make it cheaper to download, offering “click to missed call” so users can get more info from advertisers, and bandwidth targeting for reaching users with feature phone-optimized ads.
Judging by the 50% usage rate in Africa, Facebook could stand to gain billions of users if it can get more of the world on the Internet.