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Saturday, December 3, 2011

FACEBOOK in India!


Facebook Hyderabad www.facebook.com
I had the pleasure of taking my last meeting in India with  Facebook India located in Hyderabad.  The Facebook offices here in Hyderabad are very new and have only been established for little more than a year.  I met with Kirthia Reddy, a Stanford Business Grad, who is the Director of Online Operations in Hyderabad, Abishek Nag, who is just completed business school in Bangalore, and is the head of Platform Operations in India, and Kevin D'souza who is the International growth manager for India. 
I was particularly excited to meet with Facebook for the obvious reasons of the company being our generational and probably most innovative icon for communication and social media.  In addition I was very curious about what Facebook would like to or is contributing to the growing global conversation about the digital divide epidemic that plagues communities all over the world.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would they be young, would they be open to conversation about this issue, what did the offices look like?? All of these questions were spinning in my mind. 
All that being said, when I walked into the offices I was definitely not disappointed.  The Facebook office was filled with young, eager, hip, cool, trendy programmers, operators, executives, etc….having a good time working for one of the most recognizable companies in the world. The office was great and split up into two floors.  The main lobby was very cool. Brick walls, a TV blasting with videos of Mark Zuckerberg speaking at Facebook company meetings, graffiti on the walls, a bright and colorful cafeteria. It was a basically more of a playground than an office. I LOVED it!
When we finally made all of the introductions and started having a substantive discussion, It seems that after this conversation, Facebook’s stance is that they don’t really have an answer as of yet. The answer question being, “So where does Facebook fit within the digital divide ecosystem”…”Does the company have plans to contribute to the conversation by offering an ability for underserved users to obtain access and/or content”.  To Facebook, they are still a very young company and in the process of still just figuring out how to apply their emblematic social media platform to the mobile space.  It seems that they, like many others, know that the mobile marketplace is going to be THE singular method that the majority of people, underserved or served, obtain access content, entertainment, health, basically everything…. So they would like to Facebook platform to be able to operate agnostically on any phone, any phone operating system, and for all users of a mobile phone, whether it be low cost feature phones or high end smart phones.
Kevin and Abishek demonstrated an interesting new mobile communicating form that Facebook is testing using a SMS ( texting) platform called USSD.  (Look up).  It is a way of allowing users the ability to access the internet without having a web browser attached to their phone.  Ideally it is best for use by underserved users who either only have a low cost feature phone or do not have access to internet.  The USSD platform will allow users to access Facebook content and offer the ability to have an “entry point” for the internet and break the barriers of initial connectivity to Facebook content through mobile phones. 
Something that I thought was interesting about this conversation was that Facebook hasn’t actually strategized about who they wish to participate in the digital divide space.  It was acknowledge during our conversation that “some people don’t even know what the internet is, but they know what Facebook is!”. Wow. When that was said I just sat there and shook my head in total utter agreement.  Mostly because the statement is just so true and on point.  There are many users out there who even if they do not know anything about the internet, ie….what to do, how to use it, how to research, its power, its significance….if they know anything about “online access” it is definitely Facebook that they are sure to be aware of, how to use it, and how to connect to friends and family all over the planet.
I think this was the reason why I definitely wanted to meet with the Facebook team. I think I just needed to hear that they are one of the most relevant players in the industry and yet, they have no real plan to connect users to content, jobs, life enhancing opportunities, etc…, at least not yet ;-)
The conversation ended up with the four of us having a good conversation about the social vitality of social media and the use of social platforms offering access to compelling content and making the internet more relevant for those who have been underserved for years, even without their knowledge.  


It was a great discussion and I was thankful to have it. I await the moment when Facebook takes their rightful place within the national and global coalition of broadband reform. Until then, we will all keep "friending" with pleasure! 
B

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