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"Facebook for All" comes to Colombia

You’ve got to hand it to Mark Zuckerberg, he’s come up with a good plan for expanding the reach of a company that is already used by a third of the world’s online population. Talking yesterday in Bogotá, Colombia as part of his first Community Hall Q&A in Latin America, Zuckerberg announced that his Internet.org service was expanding into Colombia.

"By giving people these basic tools for free, you're creating an equal playing field," he said.

Services accessible to Colombians for free include the usual Wiki/Weather/Facebook/Search Engine plus access to government services (a first for Internet.org). Colombia is the first LATAM country to receive the Internet.org service, having been previously available in Africa to the likes of Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania.

It’s great people can now get online for free, currently the country’s internet penetration stands at around 50%, and this move will give access for people who wouldn’t normally be able to get tools such as Wikipedia, health information, job listings and other services that can make their lives better. But there’s two caveats: 1) Internet access can’t solve all the world’s problems – Bill Gates’ comments about malaria and Google’s Project Loon still ring true - and 2) There’s definitely an element of getting Facebook in front of a new audience.

Why this is “Facebook for All” phase II

There’s just under three billion people online, and around 1.3 billion of them use Facebook. In all likelihood, the social network has hit (or is very close to) saturation point for most of the markets it’s already in, and is now the incumbent trendier startups are rebelling against. There’s no great exodus from the site, but growth has to come from somewhere.

Facebook at Work sees the company trying to muscle in on the Enterprise Social Network/Collaboration space, but that’s a gamble. Enterprise social still isn’t seen as essential and the anti-Facebook stance many companies have may not waver, even with a slightly different colour scheme. So the whole Internet.org idea, while often billed by Zuckerberg as a grand philanthropic idea, allows Facebook to be there at ground zero for a huge number of first-time internet users.

Think about it; if, a few years down the line, Internet.org gets a hundred million from LATAM online, a few hundred million from Africa, and then a few hundred million more from Asia [safe to assume the service will expand there at some point] that’s somewhere around half a billion extra FB users.

In fairness, Zuckerberg is a very charitable man and I’m sure he means it when he says he thinks free internet access will make people’s lives better. But he’s a savvy businessman and you shouldn’t doubt for a second the future of his company is firmly a part of his vision.

At the Bogotá event, Zuckerberg promised, “We’re going to look back a year from now and there will hopefully be a lot more countries that have programs like this.” He might have been talking about the internet.org service, but the subtext here is he means Facebook as well.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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