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MADRID – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his vision of connecting the whole world via the Internet Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, holding forth on Facebook’s $16 billion purchase of WhatsApp, announced last week, and his newest passion project, Internet.org.
In a sit-down interview with The Facebook Effect author David Kirkpatrick, Zuckerberg said he and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum “shared the goal to help connect everyone in the world. We can build a model and bring it to everyone.”
The Facebook CEO also added that he thinks WhatsApp will be worth more than $19 billion, $3 billion more than its purchase price.
Zuckerberg was also quick to point out that Facebook’s WhatsApp acquisition is in line with his greater vision — Internet.org — a project that he described as the “on ramp” for data consumption for mobile users not presently connected to the Internet.
His next challenge, he said, is how to engage with people in developing countries where mobile coverage exceeds traditional landlines and broadband structures.
According to Zuckerberg, many people are not connected to the Internet not because they can’t afford it or because they don’t have the 3G infrastructure, but rather because they don’t know what they would use the data services for because they don’t presently use them.
The Facebook founder wants to create a basic services package, “like 911” that would include Facebook, messages, Wikipedia, basic search, weather and food prices.
“These are all text-based and require low bandwidth. So offering it cheap is reasonable,” he said before a packed audience on the first day of the four-day congress. “And they are portals to more services so that people can discover more media, and it explains why it is rational and good for them to spend $1 or $2 on a data plan.”
The project is already running in Philippines and Paraguay, and Zuckerberg said he is looking for three or five more partners to start this year.
Zuckerberg acknowledged that the project is not a money-maker right now, but urged the room full of mobile industry executives to think long-term.
“There’s no clear plan of how it’s good for Facebook, but it’s good for the world,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to grow the Internet and turn the subscribers into people who are paying.”
Zuckerberg said apps like Facebook need to be attuned to the consumer experience. To that end, he announced the Ericsson lab on the Facebook campus would help app developers to “feel empathy” for users of high-data services.
“When you feel how unusable it is under certain conditions and environments, it incentivizes you to drop to optimize data.”
Citing the 14 MB a day that users regularly consumed on Facebook one year ago, Zuckerberg trumpeted the company’s optimizing data and increasing efficiency for getting it down to 2 MB a day and the plan to drop it further to 1 MB by next year.
The GSM Mobile World Congress is the largest wireless event, attracting more than 72,000 upper-level executives from the entire service chain of the mobile experience.
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