Facebook Lite reaches 200 million users worldwide, and it’s a lot better than Free Basics

Even with a narrowed down access point, Facebook Lite presents a fairly neutral picture of the internet at a fraction of the cost.

Internet.org or Free Basics by Facebook was not exactly a failure at what it attempted to do, but it would make for a good case study on how bad implementation of an idea can be detrimental for customers (or users).

There were plenty of reveals, some shaming and some really interesting perspectives that came out of Facebook’s Internet.org episode in India. Finally, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) ruled in favour of net neutrality and banned the service on grounds of differential pricing, effectively banning all services that offered or allowed discriminatory pricing for data and services based on content.

But the past is the past and Facebook along with its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has moved on. Zuckerberg too was quick to comment that Free Basics was only one of the many initiatives it had in store for bringing the internet to those without internet access.

As per his Facebook post, the other parts of this larger initiative to bring people online included solar-powered planes, satellites and lasers, and partnering with local entrepreneurs to provide wireless hotspots. Internet.org still continues to exist in other countries.

While internet.org was initiated back in 2014 (it arrived in India a lot later), Facebook also launched another product called Facebook Lite in June 2015.

Goodbye, Free Basics; hello, FB Lite

Facebook Lite is simply a lighter version of the Facebook app, one that comes with its core functionalities, but built from the ground up to work on slow data networks. In fact, the size of the app package at just 1MB says it all. User get access to the News Feed, status updates, photos, notifications and more, and it all comes at a fraction of the price because it uses less data and can also work on low end smartphones with limited resources.

When the service came to India, it was well received keeping in mind that it reached 100 million users in Asia and parts of Latin America, Africa and Europe. Back then Facebook also pointed out that Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines were the top countries using the app.

A year later, Facebook seems to have doubled that success with Facebook Lite now reaching 200 million users in under two years, keeping the global numbers in mind.

India is important to Facebook

We reached out to Facebook and an executive commented that “India is one of the top countries for FB Lite”, hinting that it still makes it to that list a year later after it was launched, which is impressive. But then again, India does have a rather impressive population, and Facebook is banned in China.

What is even more impressive is that it seems to have done a lot better than Facebook’s previous product, internet.org. An old report from Reuters hinted at the numbers from Free Basics, stating that it gained only 1 million users in our country. While these numbers did look impressive for what was a relatively short stint, they are nothing in comparison to Facebook Lite.

Indeed, Facebook does have a lot of other initiatives in store. In more ways than one, we have yet to learn about those complications when they arrive in India. But for now, Facebook Lite even with its smaller window to the world, is still a better deal than Free Basics ever was or could be.

In fact, Facebook is now busy setting up Express Wi-Fi, a new product that should help get millions online, but similar to FB Lite it too comes at a price. Seems like the word 'free' is not going to be synonymous with Facebook, at least out here in India.

Minus the ‘free’ it’s still a good deal

Even if you consider the debate about fake news, which Zuckerberg called crazy, from the Facebook app you still have access to data saving features that let you stay connected to any news publisher you want. You also get to stay connected to your friends and family, and as Sheryl Sandberg pointed out with a case study, you also get to run a business using just your mobile phone.

In more ways than one, you still get a fair picture of the web you want, with a few sponsored posts thrown in. It's not free, but it still makes for a better mix and a whole lot better than the bottlenecked internet.org.

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