Facebook knows there are millions of new users getting mobile devices every day in emerging nations, many of whom would love to use Facebook and connect with friends and family. The company also knows that many of those new users can only access Facebook using slow, old-fashioned 2G networks, which cause apps like Facebook to load excruciatingly slow.
In developing nations, slow network connections are typically the norm. To help those users get online more easily, software developers should be sensitive to those special needs, wrote Chris Marra, a Facebook product manager, in an Oct. 27 post on the Facebook Code page.
To encourage that, Facebook is now holding what it calls 2G Tuesdays in which the company is slowing down network traffic for internal developers so they can see how users in developing nations actually experience load times when using Facebook apps, wrote Marra. Participating developers must opt in for the 2G connections on those days.
Slow 2G speeds, which can mean that a Facebook Web page can take as much as two minutes to load on a mobile device, "[don't] make for a great experience when sharing content with friends and family," wrote Marra. "To build for a global audience like ours, we know that we need to design features that work seamlessly even on a 2G network."
That's where the idea for 2G Tuesdays came in, so that developers could get an up-close look at what real-world users in developing nations have to deal with every day, wrote Marra.
"On Tuesdays, employees will get a pop-up that gives them the option to simulate a 2G connection," he wrote. "We hope this will help us understand how people with 2G connectivity use our product, so we can address issues and pain points in future builds."
Wow, here is a company asking its own developers to put themselves into the shoes of real-world users so they can see how its products work outside of the lab and in the hands and communities of customers themselves. This is a great initiative on the part of Facebook.
More apps developers and companies should be doing this exact kind of testing so they can see how things they are building work for real out in the wild on myriad devices and at a variety of network speeds.
Will users in developing nations start seeing Facebook apps working on their 2G networks just as quickly as users who have 4G services due to this initiative? Probably not, but at least Facebook is taking their needs into account and encouraging developers to try to make changes and tweaks that could bring some kinds of improvements for users on slower networks.
Hey, a moonshot this isn't, but in developing nations, it at least sigals that Facebook is sympathetic to their situation. And that is a promising development in itself.