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“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.”
-Edward R. Murrow.

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The Developing World Will Be Connected to a Radically Different Internet - Part 1


The Developing World Will Be Connected to a Radically Different Internet - Part 1

A recent article from the Wall Street Journal outlines a counterintuitive state of Internet affairs: the growth of new Internet users worldwide is slowing down - despite increasing efforts by tech companies to bring the developing world online.

In fact, according to a recent study, growth of world-wide Internet users slowed to a compound annual growth rate of 10.4% from 2009 to 2013, down from 15.1% between 2005 and 2008. 

This is why Google is actively investing billions of dollars in a satellite network that will bring internet to previously unreachable places. That's in addition to Google's efforts to use a network of high-flying balloons to provide global Wifi. And Google isn't alone - Facebook wants to beam internet to the developing world from laser-shooting drones (really - I promise this isn't Star Wars).

Tech companies' efforts to bring internet into the deserts, jungles, and rural places of the globe face more than just complex technical obstacles, however. Many more people could be online today than actually are. The reality is that there are many social obstacles preventing widespread internet adoption, including poor digital literacy, lack of disposable income, and a shortage of compelling online content that feels relevant to diverse audiences.

To tackle these problems, Facebook has launched Internet.org, an attempt to aid emerging economies by making internet access more affordable and efficient (the program is not without criticism). Initially, the company focused on streamlining its Facebook app to use less data, together with deals with telecom providers that dramatically lower access costs. But lately these strategies are being paired with efforts to package Facebook with useful, local services. For example, the company recently developed an Internet.org app for Zambia that combines weather forecasts, local job boards, and information on women's organizations with Facebook's existing social network.

The end result is bound to be lucrative for Facebook's bottom line, in addition to providing unprecedented economic opportunities for the previously disconnected populations who gain access to the web. Internet.org is a good first step for the company, and their development of niche apps for the developing world reveal a rapidly-evolving understanding of what the new internet will look like. But in order to attract and retain these brand-new web users, tech companies like Facebook will have to realize that the key to the new web is new content - specialized, localized, compelling content. Only by providing tools that are relevant to their new audiences will the tech pioneers who are trailblazing new web infrastructures be able to develop the kind of brand loyalty that they take for granted in Silicon Valley. The rest of the world is a radically different place - with diverse languages, social norms, and cultural particularities - and they will demand a radically different internet.





Photo by Erik Hersman - Ushahidi Mobile Team on October 4, 2008 licensed under Creative Commons.