Internet for the World: Facebook & Drones!

By Shlomo Maital

Drone facebook

Hard to believe, but the World Wide Web is only about 23 years old. In 1993, only 20 million people were on the Internet. In 1999 only four per cent of the world’s population of 6 billion people, or 240 m., were Internet-linked. Today 40 percent of the world’s population of over 7 billion people, or some 2.8 billion people, is Internet-connected! The Internet has changed our lives massively and permanently. That is – those of us who are connected.

   But what about the remaining 4.2 billion, or 60 per cent of the world? Google and Facebook are both racing to find ways to connect them. It is not easy. Most of those 4.2 billion people live in countries with minimal infrastructure. How can it be done?

   According to Vindu Goel, writing in today’s New York Times, Facebook is pulling an “Amazon” (remember Jeff Bezos’ recent pitch, that Amazon will deliver packages with drones) and is hiring as many as 50 aeronautical engineers and space scientists, to “figure out how to beam Internet access down from solar-powered drones and other ‘connectivity aircraft’.”   This will be done in a new Facebook Connectivity lab and a project called Internet.org. Part of Mark Zuckerberg’s goal, apparently, is to make (and keep) Facebook the most cool, interesting place to work.  He is fighting against the curse of scale – big companies lose their creative drive, and their creative people, as they scale up and bureaucratize.

   Earlier, Google too announced a drive to connect those unconnected 4.2 billion. Google’s approach currently focuses on high-flying balloons.  Facebook is also working on compressing Internet data, cutting the cost of Internet mobile phones and finding ways to hook up remote areas.

   Neither Facebook nor Google seem to have a clear business model in mind for their balloons or drones. The advertising model probably won’t work, because most of those unconnected 4.2 billion people are quite poor – although the late C.K. Prahalad pointed out, in his book, Fortunes at the Bottom of the Pyramid, that collectively, they form a huge market.

   Many analysts are very critical of both Google and Facebook for their ‘connect everyone’ efforts.

   Maybe we are missing the point. Maybe Google, and Facebook, are trying to connect everybody, because – it’s just the right thing to do. Maybe this is a new face of capitalism? Could it possibly be?   Maybe an exlusive  capitalism that leaves out over half the world will eventually crumble, taking Google and Facebook with it..and maybe Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg realize it?  Maybe inclusive capitalism is cool?!

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