As Google launches its new social network service « Google+ », now available to the public without invitations, facebook is trying to remain the leader by looking at emerging countries. With over 700 million regular users in the world, but barely 3 million in Nigeria - a country of more than 150 million people, facebook knows it can now only grow where the internet is not yet easily accessible.
Most facebook members in Africa check their « walls » at cybercafés, which doesn’t make interactions with friends as easy and natural as it is the case in Europe or America, where half of the population now has facebook in their pocket all day long thanks to their beloved « smartphones » (Android, IOS…).
To have fast internet, you need either a land-line telephone, fiber optics or a good cell phone network. You also need the costly subscription to go along with it. For an affordable amount of money per month (25 euros in France), a subscriber can get unlimited internet on his or her subsidized smartphone. That’s generally not the case in Africa, at least not in a way that is affordable.
Facebook is in the process of negociating with major cell phone operators across the Continent to implement a java version of facebook which would work on all cell phones, including older generations « non-smartphone » still commonly used in Africa.
The idea would be that in each country one cell phone company would offer facebook to all its clients for free, including prepaid cell phone users, to attract new clients on their network.
It’s a win-win deal : Facebook gains more users and – more importantly – many more daily connections ; and the phone company offering the service can boast an innovative exclusive service. Eventually all internet access prices would naturally go down on all networks.
With the arrival of Google+, the only very serious competitor facebook had to face in years, emerging countries may now be considered – at last – as a real growth opportunity for Facebook, giving Africans cheap access to one of today’s essential communication tools.