If you used the web in the ’90s then you probably remember the patience required to load a new web page, or even worse download a media file. It’s something you were able to tolerate then, but would be unbearable if your broadband connection today were suddenly throttled to similar speeds.
Yet that is what Facebook is going to do to its employees – every Tuesday, if the employee chooses to opt-in to the experience – to better understand emerging markets like India. The idea is that a pop-up window will allow Facebook employees to simulate the connection so they can get a feel for what it’s like to use the social network at those speeds.
Why? Because newcomers to the online space are mostly coming out of emerging markets, where the primary means of connecting isn’t a high-powered desktop with a broadband modem, but a cell phone with a web browser and a 2G wireless connection. The 2G wireless standard was first put to use in 1991 and depending on what flavour of the technology you were using, the best speed you could experience was either 50 kilobits per second, or 1 megabit per second. In other words, if you were to download a 5 MB file it would take more than eight minutes, whereas you’d expect to do that on a 4G LTE connection in about 3.8 seconds.
Calling its new initiative “2G Tuesdays,” Facebook is hoping the experience will help its employees understand how 2G users interact with Facebook. It’s a way for the people that are responsible for making the product to put themselves in the shoes of new users out of those emerging markets. Once they feel the pain of having to wait to download that photo gallery in the news feed, design decisions might be made to ensure that 2G users have a good Facebook experience too.
After all, leaving a good first impression in the early days of countries that are seeing millions of people come online in the next few years could lead to huge growth for Facebook in the years ahead. Facebook’s exercise is a good reminder for all developers that sometimes, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of not just our power users, but also our new customers that may face limitations.