Facebook gives Internet.org a makeover

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Rebrands Internet.Org App As “Free Basics”.

From being just a social media platform, Facebook is transforming itself as an enabler of Internet access through various initiatives aimed at reaching the next billion users.

Facebook’s Internet.org program, intended to supply free Internet to people in developing countries, is renaming its app “Free Basics”—and allowing developers greater flexibility in creating apps for the platform.”We want to make it clear that the apps you can use through Internet.org are free, basic services that can give you access to essential resources like BabyCenter,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post, referring to a community for advice and support on pregnancy and parenting. Over half the world’s population – 57 percent or 4.2 billion people – still does not have access to the Internet, a report from the Broadband Commission for Digital Development says. Called Wi-Fi Express, the initiative is part of Facebook’s Internet.org platform as it looks to expand its user base beyond the saturated markets in the US and Europe. Launched in 2013, Internet.org initially (and controversially) provided access only to Facebook and content from select partners; earlier this year, however, it was opened up to all developers, albeit with a number of limitations.

Current Android app users can continue without interruption; the mobile Web version, meanwhile, will redirect from the previous URL to FreeBasics.com. It has also added 60 new services, such as English Dost (for learning English), MeraDoctor (for health), M-Kisan (for farmers) and Skymet (for weather forecasts).

Launched in February, Internet.org started out as a service meant to connect those who do not have Internet connections, to the social media network, as well as websites such as Wikipedia, ESPN, BBC, Reuters, ClearTrip, AccuWeather and Dictionary.com. If a user tries to view content that isn’t included in Facebook’s free package, they are asked to pay for a data plan—prompting users and advocacy groups to call Internet.org’s truncated services a violation of net neutrality. Facebook first announced plans for the Internet.org Platform in May, and “over the past few months, developers have adapted their services specifically for the Internet.org Platform requirements,” the organization said.

We are working on various business models to help the local entrepreneur get returns and turn investors in the project in the long term,” Seth told BusinessLine. Knowing this deficit of basic Internet access would not help his quest to connect the world virtually, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a plan two years ago to bring the Internet to the three-fifths without it.

Internet.org is also getting a security upgrade. “We already encrypt information everywhere possible, and starting today Internet.org also supports secure HTTPS web services as well,” Zuckerberg said. Facebook has developed a low-cost software that will help hotspot operators at the village level do the billing and also alert consumers about data usage. Facebook’s Internet.org program helped one billion people in 19 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America connect with the World Wide Web, according to a statement. In an official statement, Facebook said: “We’re making this change to better distinguish the Internet.org initiative from the programs and services we’re providing, including Free Basics.” So the Free Basics app and Freebasics.com are basically service providers under the Internet.org initiative.

Facebook teamed up with local providers to give users access to things like Wikipedia, some job listing sites, select weather, sports, and news outlets, and, naturally, Facebook and Facebook Messenger. The service is positioned a bit differently from Airtel Zero and that reflects in the emphasis on making the content compatible for low bandwidth and low-cost devices, which may find it difficult to run all these apps separately. Zuckerberg announced in July a plan to increase Internet access with a giant drone, but debates on net neutrality continued because Facebook’s program offered select content and providers through the free app, leaving it in a “moral grey area,” according to VentureBeat.com. Zuckerberg insisted he was just trying to get people connected, but ultimately announced that Facebook would open Internet.org to anyone who could build an app that didn’t eat up too much bandwidth. “Connectivity isn’t an end in itself. It’s what people do with it that matters—like raising a healthy family,” Zuckerberg said. “We hope the improvements we’ve made today help even more people get connected—so that our whole global community can benefit together.”

Anyone currently using the app will be able to continue using the Android app, though it will now be called Free Basics by Facebook in Google Play,” Facebook said in a blogpost. Developers have made apps that will work with the Facebook platform so that users can now access 60 more services alongside what Zuckerberg is calling “Free Basics.” Many of the new services will be resources for entrepreneurship, health information, and parenting tips. Simply put, users with a Reliance mobile connection can access all the services that form part of Free Basics without paying extra for data charges or rentals. Facebook and the Internet.org plan have a “big role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of India,” he said, and the program had given one million people access to health information in the last month alone. “In April, I went to India and we heard the feedback from the community there that they felt that the platform was not as open as it could be to developers,” Mr.

Facebook, however, is confident that its initiative will become one of the key projects addressing connectivity issues not just in India but other emerging markets. “Initial data coming in from the hotspots installed in India suggests that this model will work. Daniels told the Economic Times. “So what we did is we opened up Internet.org so that any developer can develop an application that a person coming online for the very first time can use.” On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg announced the change alongside photos of “Asif Mujhawar, a soybean farmer from rural Maharashtra, India,” who has been using the free BabyCenter app from Internet.org for health tips with his two daughters. Most of the comments on this announcement were positive, though several Indians noted that farmers in Maharashtra probably worried more about putting food on the table than their Internet access. The aircraft has the wingspan of a Boeing 777 and is built to stay airborne at 60,000 feet for many months, connecting a large area over which it hovers. Explaining the rationale behind Wi-Fi Express, Yael Maguire, Head of Connectivity Labs, Facebook, said: “In countries such as India we have realised consumers in rural areas have about $25 a year to spend on communication needs.

It is difficult to meet that cost level and that’s why we are researching technologies that will address this challenge.” Another project Facebook is experimenting on is using lasers to transmit data. Facebook’s use of certain security protocols on the Web version of Internet.org had led to some concerns; with Free Basics, a part of that issue has been addressed by allowing the use of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) on websites, something that wasn’t available on the Web version earlier.

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