Facebook Aug. 11 confirmed that it is testing Facebook Lite, a faster-loading, stripped-down version of the popular social network geared for countries that have bandwidth speed or cost constraints.
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the testing and compared it to accessing Facebook via a Web-enabled mobile phone. The stripped-down service lets users accept Friend requests, look at photos and Status updates, write comments and write on people's Walls.
Lite is not intended for all of Facebook's 250 million-plus users and Facebook accidentally invited some users to access Lite at http://lite.facebook.com, according to TechCrunch, which broke the news. When these users clicked on the link it didn't work. Facebook users who click on the link now are redirected to the full-featured Facebook site.
"Last night, the test was temporarily exposed to a larger set of users by mistake," the Facebook spokesperson said. "We have not opened up access to lite.facebook.com to all users at this time."
Where is it available? Users who have been invited to Lite seem to hail from India. Many of these invitees shared screenshots with TechCrunch and raved about how much faster Lite is compared to the full-featured version. Facebook users in Russia, China and Japan are other possible guinea pigs for Lite.
Why Facebook Lite? Facebook has designs on broadening its reach on the international scene and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has often spoken about his desire to see Facebook grow abroad. Currying favor with users in other countries with spotty or pricey bandwidth will endear the social network to users in such areas.
Charlene Li, the founding analyst of The Altimeter Group, told eWEEK Lite makes sense: "Stripping Facebook down into a "lite" version for some countries is smart - it gives users on slower connections an easy way to enjoy the service, thus encouraging adoption."
However, Li also cautioned against making Lite available in the United States and other countries with high bandwidth. "Users could choose a simpler interface, making advertising and advanced features ineffective."
That's exactly what Facebook must avoid as it vies for the largest piece of the online advertising pie versus Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo and MySpace.
While search engine providers Google, Microsoft and Yahoo rely on sponsored links and display ads from Web searchers, sites such as Twitter and Facebook must target their networks of fervent users with advertising.
Many believe real-time search is the next big ad opportunity. Twitter has the pole position here and Facebook took steps to address that niche Aug. 10 by acquiring FriendFeed, whose social media content streams in real-time.