Facebook (FB) just bought WhatsApp, paying $16bn in cash and stock and $3bn in RSUs. WhatsApp has 450m active users, of which 72% are active every day. It has just 32 engineers. And its users share 500m photos a day, which is almost certainly more than Facebook.
This is interesting in all sorts of ways – it illustrates most of the key trends in consumer tech today in one deal. First, it shows the continued determination of Facebook to be the ‘next’ Facebook. It’s striking to compare the aggressive reaction to disruption shown by Google (GOOG), Facebook and other leading web companies today with how some of their predecessors a decade ago stumbled and lost their way.
- Smartphone apps can access your address book, bypassing the need to rebuild your social graph on a new service
- They can access your photo library, where uploading photos to different websites is a pain
- They can use push notifications instead of relying on emails and on people bothering to check multiple websites
- Crucially, they all get an icon on the home screen.
Facebook is setting its sights on its next five billion users — even if they don’t yet have Internet access.
Called Internet.org, the social network has joined forces with Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, Ericsson and others to bring web access to the five billion people, primarily in developing countries, that don’t own smartphones or have access to affordable connectivity.
“There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.”
According to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals report, 2.7 billion people or 39 percent of the world’s population will be on the Internet before the end of 2013.
In a proposal entitled “Is Connectivity a Human Right?” Zuckerberg lays out his plans for the organization and its solutions to equipping the rest of the world with the tools to connect with each other and gain access to the world’s greatest repository of information. The “rough plan” focuses on spreading connectivity through mobile devices with three main “levers.”
The Internet.org announcement comes just a few months after Google’s announcement of its Project Loon, which aims to bring connectivity to the rest of the world through Internet-equipped balloons. Announced in June, Google has begun testing the balloons in New Zealand and more recently in Northern California. Just this month Bill Gates criticized the project, saying that fighting malaria was more important.
On Tuesday night, they revealed Internet.org — a global partnership that wants to put the web’s vast trove of knowledge at the fingertips of every man, woman, and child around the world.
Today, just over one-third of Earth’s population has access to the internet, which means 4 billion to 5 billion others are unplugged. Facebook thinks we can do better.
Joined by major communications providers like Samsung, Nokia, Qualcomm, and Ericsson, the global initiative will focus on three key challenges in developing countries:
1. Make access affordable. The organization believes this can be accomplished by developing lower-cost, higher-quality smartphones.
2. Use data more efficiently. The goal here is to develop better apps and compression tools to handle data more effectively. Facebook, for example, wants to lower its Android app’s data rate from the current 12 megabytes a day down to just one.
3. Have businesses drive local access. Facebook says this “includes testing new models that align incentives for mobile operators, device manufacturers, developers and other businesses to provide more affordable access than has previously been possible.”
“Everything Facebook has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says in a statement. “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.”
The effort is just the latest example of a major technology firm seeking to shuttle potential growth opportunities under a humanitarian banner. It’s “a reflection of how tech companies are trying to meet Wall Street’s demands for growth by attracting customers beyond saturated markets in the United States and Europe,” says Vindu Goel at the New York Times, “even if they have to help build services and some of the infrastructure in poorer, less digitally sophisticated parts of the world.” (Facebook growth has largely stalled in existing markets at just over 1.1 billion users.)