Facebook’s Zero: A Forthcoming Lightweight Mobile Web Site

As more and more people use Facebook from locations around the world with poor internet and mobile data connections, the company has been trying to customize its products to better reach them. The latest move is a not-yet-launched mobile site called Zero, that Facebook plans to fully introduce in the coming weeks.

Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya mentioned a little about it at the Mobile World Congress happening now in Barcelona, Spain. While he didn’t provide many details, TechCrunch‘s Robin Wauters gleaned a few, and took the top screenshot: “it’s basically a text-only version of the Facebook service that carriers can offer to their subscribers at no charge. If a user then decides to switch from text-only to multimedia (e.g. view photos from their friends), mobile operators can start charging them for ‘premium’ data service.”

A Facebook spokesperson tells us a little more: “‘Zero’ is a light-weight version of m.facebook.com that omits data intensive applications like Photos. It will launch in coming weeks and we are discussing it at MWC as an option to make Facebook on the mobile web available to everyone, anywhere and allow operators to encourage more mobile Internet usage.”

Zero could help people around the world use Facebook even when their data services aren’t working well, from someone in an especially rural part of Siberia to an iPhone user in downtown San Francisco.

The overall point here is pretty clear. Facebook recently said it had reached 400 million monthly active users, with more than 70% of users located outside of the United States. Meanwhile, its number of mobile users has climbed to 100 million, or a quarter of its total user base. Facebook’s strategy is to make at least some parts of its service as widespread as possible.

For people with weak internet connection, it introduced a greatly trimmed-down version of its web site last year, called Lite, that cut out applications, groups and other data-intensive parts of the site. In terms of mobile, the company has been developing native applications for some devices, or working to help phone manufacturers and carriers create their own versions; it has also enabled text-based interactions on Facebook, together with more than 80 carriers in more than 32 countries.

The domain zero.facebook.com is currently live, but for those of us with mobile carriers who haven’t added support, we’re just seeing the screen, above.