Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. The company is now literally trying to do that by leading a group of mostly mobile companies to help bring 5 billion more people online.
The initiative resides at internet.org. From the press release:
The founding members of internet.org — Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung — will develop joint projects, share knowledge, and mobilize industry and governments to bring the world online. These founding companies have a long history of working closely with mobile operators and expect them to play leading roles within the initiative, which over time will also include NGOs, academics and experts as well. Internet.org is influenced by the successful Open Compute Project, an industry-wide initiative that has lowered the costs of cloud computing by making hardware designs more efficient and innovative.
For now the “rough plan,” as Zuckerberg called it on CNN, consists of three ideas or elements:
- Making internet access aﬀordable by making it more eﬃcient to deliver data.
- Using less data by improving the eﬃciency of the apps and experiences we use.
- Helping businesses drive internet access by developing a new model to get people online.
Conspicuously absent from this founding group are companies such as Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other big online names. Google’s own ambitious effort to bring connectivity to rural and remote areas is Project Loon. I suspect if there’s traction with internet.org we’ll see more companies sign on.
I had a very mixed reaction to the news when I first heard about it last night. From one perspective — giving people in the developing world internet access to “level the playing field” — is an important goal that will help with education, dissemination of ideas, perhaps voting, as well as supporting other efforts to improve living conditions and delivery of services.
A more cynical view of this initiative sees it as primarily self interested; although I don’t think that Zuckerberg is really thinking about how this will directly benefit Facebook or its revenues. He strikes me as idealist in many respects.
But there’s also a way in which this sort of idealism is questionable and even naive. Technology and the internet have had a mixed impact on our lives, improving them in many ways but also diminishing their quality in several respects. (Does the developing world need some of the dreck that passes for content online? Does it need the ADD that comes with 24/7 access?)
Beyond this, the idea that technology or the internet is the answer to every question is simply wrong. This is technology as a kind of religion.
Having said that, and given the fact that internet isn’t going away, then this sort of effort is probably required to redress the global “digital divide” as it used to be called in the US.