Friday, October 30, 2015

First world problems + slow internet does not equal developing world context

Young people in Tanzania of all socioeconomic backgrounds are increasingly smart phone owners. 
Earlier this week Techcrunch posted a piece on Facebook and their efforts to better understand the challenges facing users in developing countries by encouraging them to opt in to slower internet (2G) for ONE HOUR a week.  Modestly titled: "Facebook Gives Its Staff A Taste Of Emerging Markets With New ‘2G Tuesdays’ Program."

In the two weeks I just spent in East Africa, I've met an incredible number of young people who have smartphones and are plugged in to Facebook.  It's definitely one of the most popular entry points for coming online.  Facebook's initiative is also a very interesting attempt to do good by making social content freely available online.  And good business: people start by accessing just free content, and then slowly increase their demand for more data.  If the statistics on usage are real, it also seems to be off to a good start both on social and financial returns.

Yay for Facebook.  But if they really want to empathize with these users, I've got some more suggestions for them:
  • Cut the power off at random intervals
  • Set up charging stations at least 500m away and make people pay to use it
  • have some serious network downtime
  • block Pandora and any other site that doesn't work (for free) outside the US
  • put all applications in Spanish (really anything that's not the native language for most people in the office)
  • Only let people use their mobile phones to access the web, and limit the number of phones to 1, maximum 2, for a family of six
  • Set the monthly usage to less than 1GB per month.  Data is expensive, after all, and most users prepay for small quantities at a time.  No more streaming video.
And that's just simulating ONLINE realities in developing countries; hardly a "taste" of life in emerging markets.  Re-reading a post I wrote in 2011 about trying to write a book in Bangladesh reminds me of all the things that I didn't anticipate, from "rainy season delaying our printing process" (pages dry outside, I guess?), political strikes, ridiculously slow elevators, the lack of quiet spaces, gridlock traffic, and so much more.

Waiting for a loan is a lot more interesting when you have a phone to entertain you.
Kudos to Facebook for trying.  Much better than not making any effort.

But @Techcrunch, seriously, is this really news?  There's so much cool stuff happening outside Silicon Valley that never gets on the radar.