The Daily Illini

Facebook Lite app gives access to users in developing countries


Some users of the Facebook mobile app know the frustration of inconsistent Internet connections and running out of storage. But for users in developing countries, accessing the app can be nearly impossible.

However, this is now changing in certain developing countries because of Facebook’s newest development, Facebook Lite.

Facebook Lite is a simpler version of the original Facebook mobile app. It is designed for 2G networks and locations with limited Internet connections, and it only takes up 285 kb of space. When compared to the original Facebook Android app, which takes up 25 mb, and the Facebook iOS app, which is approximately 70 mb of space, Facebook Lite offers a much simpler option. It is available for free download on Android devices in only a select number of countries through Google Play.

According to Business Insider, Facebook Lite is currently available in Bangladesh, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. Business Insider also said that the new app has messaging, push notifications and camera capabilities just like the original.

Matthew Winters, political science assistant professor at the University who currently teaches Political Science 241: Comparative Politics in Developing Nations, said that Facebook Lite relates to his research.

Winters said he has witnessed the effects of technology in countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Uganda while studying foreign aid projects there.

“Changes in information technology have really changed life and changed economic markets in the developing world,” he said.

Winters also said that this new technology shows how foreign aid has not advanced in the ways people might have hoped for.

He explained that when mobile phones started spreading around Africa in the 1990s, foreign aid projects were still focused on building telephone poles and lines. He said this allowed many Africans to skip over landlines.

“With mobile phones, people can get information about prices they previously couldn’t get (and) that helps poor farmers sell their crops at a better price, poor fishermen sell their fish at a better price,” he said. “It seems that this Facebook app is an extension of that — another way of sharing information with a network that could really have meaningful changes for people.”

He said this shows that Facebook knew there was a market out there for people who don’t have sufficiently fast Internet access, so they innovated.

“(They) didn’t need any foreign aid agency to tell them to do that,” he said. “They needed to change their product in a way that gave them access.”

Jennifer Kim, a PhD student in computer science, also said Facebook Lite relates to her research.

Kim said she studies how people find value in exchanging Facebook birthday greetings, why people send them and how people perceive them.

One finding from her research is that people use the birthday greetings as an opportunity to communicate with others that they do not speak with often. She said one of the participants in her study connected with a friend abroad, after a Facebook birthday greeting triggered a conversation. They had not talked in six or seven years.

“Being able to provide that aspect to people in developing countries, they might be able to connect (with) other countries better,” Kim said.

Winters said that he sees a need for the app in Indonesia, and more countries as well.

“I think even on my iPhone here I would find it useful,” he said.

Annabeth can be reached at [email protected].

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