Internet perception in emerging markets

Remember the CDs AOL used to send out that gave you 176,327 free hours online? A high school friend’s mother was convinced [up until even a few years ago] that going to via the application was the only way to get online.

I thought back to this when I recently reviewed some data from research a colleague did for one of my projects. She conducted UX research using a survey in San Salvador in October 2013. The survey included a few questions about the person’s technology usage; one of those questions asked for the person’s data plan. Roughly 13% [99 of 753] stated that Facebook Zero was their data plan. Having never heard of Facebook Zero before, and never trusting a company’s own statements about its products, I set out to find out more about it.

Christopher Mims from Quartz does an amazing job of outlining Facebook’s history in emerging markets with Facebook Zero. Reading this article reminded me of my own early days on the Web. Back then, I thought Internet Explorer was the only way to access the Internet. [It didn’t take long before I was using multiple browsers and encouraging others to do the same.]

I imagine many of these users, and likely others in emerging markets, have a similar experience with accessing the Web. The Web is something you access through <insert big company provider name here> first. The Internet becomes synonymous with <insert big company provider name here>.

April Deibert from the Innovation Series also wrote a terrific article on Google’s and Facebook’s interest in emerging markets. This article not only illuminates the two companies’ history in emerging markets, but also gives some excellent summary points at the end. My favorite practical points that she gives are:

1. Be aware that smart phones, wireless data packages, and wi-fi are still out of reach for many across the globe.

6. Design websites and apps that are fast loading and don’t use much data to browse. Limit the amount of graphics, images, and videos to a need-to-know basis. Having an all text site may seem overtly simple, but may be very effective at reaching a particular population.

9. Deliver content in the local language. Larger services may be able to automate this process better in the future by geo-targeting regions and auto-translating pages into a list of local languages.

13. Invest in UX testing at the local level.

Obviously, as a UX designer, I’m a huge fan of her last point, but the point still stands. You can’t design for users well without UX research and testing. Testing your UX on colleagues who exclusively use smartphones does you little good if your work is geared at feature phone users.