Facebook will make its employees feel what it’s like to have a 2G connection

“Just standing around, pretending like we have slow internet.”
“Just standing around, pretending like we have slow internet.”
Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Simulation is a great way to design a product for users who don’t share the same context as you do. This is what Facebook aims to drill through to its staff by slowing down the site for one hour on Tuesdays.

Through the initiative—dubbed ”2G Tuesdays”—the company hopes its staff will better understand what it’s like to access the platform via a 2G connection, a reality for many of its users living in the developing world. In Africa, Facebook has over 120 million active users, 57% of which access the platform using a feature phone with a 2G connection.

“They’re going to see the places that we need to improve our product, but they’re also going to see the places where we have made a lot of progress,” said Tom Alison, Facebook’s engineering director.

Earlier this month, the company optimized its news feed to allow users with slow connections access it quickly. Through other initiatives, like Internet.Org, Facebook Lite—a mobile app designed for 2G connections—and the company’s recent announcement that it will beam internet by satellite in Africa starting next year, it is clear that Facebook is betting on the “next billion” internet users—many of which still use 2G technology.

But all of these initiatives aren’t just philanthropic deeds. By optimizing the platform for slower connections and helping to improve access to the internet, Facebook wants to continue grow its user base rapidly in countries like India and Nigeria with the view to generating more revenue in the long term.

With 1.42 billion active monthly users by the end of the second quarter this year, the popular social network has become a mega advertising entity. In the second quarter of this year, 96.4% of Facebook’s revenue (pdf, pg. 8) came from advertising, while 76%, or $2.6 billion, of that ad revenue was derived from mobile advertising.

While Facebook is notching up billions of dollars in revenue in North America and Europe, its average revenue per user (ARPU) in the developing world lags behind, as Quartz has previously reported.

Figures from the company’s second quarter earnings for 2015 show how regions like Africa and South America (accounted for in the “rest of the world” category) generate 10 times less in average revenue per user (ARPU), than the two North American countries, US and Canada.