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Bringing Facebook to Africa

Facebook is set to launch a branded device on Thursday.

Underlining the growing importance of the African region to internet companies as well as more established telecoms players, telecoms.com caught up with Lior Tal, business development manager of Facebook, who is speaking at the Africa Com conference and is responsible for putting the social network on the map in the African continent.

Although Facebook is just starting out in Africa, the company sees plenty of opportunity as many people in Africa, as well as other emerging markets, are coming online for the first time through their mobile devices. The capabilities of these devices in emerging markets represent a challenge so the ability to deliver the “Facebook experience” to these users has been one of the web firm’s key priorities. Tal flagged up Facebook for Every Phone, the offering formerly known as Snaptu, as a prime example. The app is a very thin Java client that runs on over 2500+ basic handsets and is the company’s first mobile product that is fully designed with a first time internet user in mind.

“A person can register, find friends, and ramp up on Facebook even if they don’t have a smartphone or easy access to a PC-based internet connection,” said Tal. “We see massive potential to get people in Africa connected through this mobile application, as well as our other mobile products. We believe everyone should be able to access Facebook easily, regardless of where they are or what device they’re using.”

In another example, the company partnered with SIM specialist Gemalto to develop the Facebook for SIM platform, which addresses the same problem of handset capability by embedding the application on the SIM instead of the device.

“Facebook for Every Phone actually started off as a similar trial. In general, there’s a lot of room for both experimentation and failure – but I think together, Facebook and our mobile partners can help break down access barriers in the emerging world,” Tal said.

As an open platform, Tal said that creating relationships with partners and developers needs to be part of the company’s DNA. “We provide the technology, and our partners benefit by leveraging the social graph to bring socially-relevant products and services to hundreds of millions of people. Since many partners here are focused on getting African consumers online, we there is a huge opportunity to work together in bringing Facebook mobile services to their subscribers, while driving real value for their business.”

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