Facebook learned how it should retool its app by travelling to Africa


While most of us in developed countries like the US, Japan, Canada, the UK, Australia, and so on have the necessary funds to purchase high-end smartphones and get the best of the best technology, there are other parts of the world where even owning a mobile phone is considered a luxury. What this means is that sometimes developers develop apps designed for powerful hardware in mind, and don’t take into account that there might be users with low-end devices who might struggle to run their apps. This is an issue that Facebook has recently acknowledged and in a post by the social networking giant, they revealed that in a bid to improve its Facebook app, they actually went to Africa to see what could be done about it.

One of Mark Zuckerberg’s goals for Facebook is bringing the “next 5 billion” people onto the social network. But that isn’t as simple as increasing the company’s advertising spending in the developing world. So how can it be done? Alex Sourov, an engineer from Facebook’s Seattle office, traveled to Africa with colleagues to identify the challenges for Facebook users who don’t have access to a high-speed mobile network. Armed with a variety of low-cost Android devices and the latest version of Facebook’s app, the team found that Facebook’s approach at the time was a complete mismatch for users’ experience on the ground in Africa. “The combination of an intermittent, low-bandwidth network connection and a lack of memory space on the devices resulted in slow load times and constant crashes,” he wrote in a post today. “We even burned through our monthly data plans in 40 minutes.” Since that trip, Facebook has taken a number of steps to increase its Android app’s performance. Because the budget smartphones they used for testing often only had single-core processors, Facebook engineers found that they could improve startup times by waiting to initialize certain functions until after the app started up.

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