Chris Cox, the Chief Product Officer of Facebook, is holding his first set of business meetings for 2016 in New Delhi and that shows how important a market India is for the social network. Over 138 million Indians use Facebook on a monthly basis and the expectation is that a third of the next billion people to come on the Internet will be from India.
Cox says the company’s “understanding of how to make great products for every type of device and network is becoming more important” and they are responsible for “making our products really fast and good on less than optimum network conditions”and “India is the centre piece where all that is happening.”
Are we going to see a lot of new products come from Facebook, especially for developing markets like India?
You are going to see us continue to push forward at the high end, like 360-degree videos. But we are also going to ensure that each feature also has really good delivery on a 2G network. For example, on Slideshow, we have a tool that lets advertisers specify how the ad appears to somebody on a different connection — turning a video into a slideshow — and also target based on device and connectivity.
Is the News Feed going to change drastically in the coming months?
There are a few ways in which the News Feed will change. One is the migration from text to more immersive and rich experiences. Rather than reading about your day, it is better to feel and experience the day as you felt it. So in the feed you will now see more movement, like 360-degree videos, collages, live broadcasts and a new feature called Reactions. Reactions, now live in five countries, lets you press the Like button and respond with a bunch of common reactions. Since we don’t make the content, all the innovation is happening on how we make the container support more creativity.
Two, we are also working on more control, giving users the power to decide what they want to see first, or the power to decide what they want to see more or less of. There is more and more content every day and there is not more and more time. We want to give every user the 10 most important things they want to talk to their family about over dinner. Our vision is that we need to get to the day where for the tens of thousands of hours of time our billion users spend on Facebook, we understand which of those minutes were really important to them.
There is this stream of thought that messaging apps will soon become the medium. Is Facebook also thinking on those lines?
We see them as very complementary services. If you think about what you are doing when you use Messenger, we are seeing very high frequency communication with a relatively smaller number of people. If you look at what you are doing with News Feed or Instagram, you are checking in multiple times a day to see what’s going on. Both are massive markets with massive problems to solve, and lots of room to grow. This is why we are investing massively in the family of applications.
Even in the middle, if you think of News Feed as one to many and messaging as one to few, there are groups and events which are huge, quickly growing features. Even in India, the number of groups users doubled in the past year. Incidentally, in Mauritius, 25 per cent of the country, is part of a group to trade things. Facebook as a company looks at this whole space of communication, and wants be the best at all the primary ways of communication for any audience.
Any plans to integrate WhatsApp with Facebook?
We operate WhatsApp pretty independently, so that WhatsApp and Facebook can both move quickly. If you look at Instagram and Facebook, there is some amount of threading, but largely they exist as their own ecosystems.
What is your take on Free Basics? Is there a way to make the product more acceptable and allay the fears in India?
We want Free Basics to work in India. Period. We are investing a lot of time and energy to ensure that for developers, users and everyone else, we have something that works. The problem we are solving is that access to the Internet for everyone in the world, which we believe is an important problem to work on. In the long term, we hope, that there will be a lot of ways to different ways to get fast, free Internet.
But in the near term, with a lot of people being on networks where data is expensive and the world not yet thinking of how to lower the cost, speed and reliability, we need something like this. If we could go back in time, we would do Free Basics differently and we have learnt a lot of lessons. But we are a hundred per cent committed to do a good job of listening and getting to a place, where we can offer this service to everyone.
There is still lot of apprehension about how Free Basics works. Why do you think this is happening?
Most of what we are hearing is not what we are saying. And we take full responsibility for that. We want to make sure that this is free for any developer to sign up and the problem we are trying to solve is to get fast, free Internet to everyone. We are learning how to communicate better. We have been a little surprised how difficult it’s been, but we are going to keep working on it.
Pour some light on your meeting with Indian entrepreneurs this visit? What is that about?
It is about collaboration. India is the second largest developer community we have. As much as 75 per cent of the top grossing apps in India use Facebook for login. There are a lot of ways we can work better together. FB start is a programme that’s already given out $20 million to Indian entrepreneurs. We are heavily invested in being a part of the growing ecosystem in India. We are here to talk to them about what features we can build to better support them — things like Augmented Traffic Control which tells them how an app is performing on different networks and devices. We have a lot of stuff that we are working on for ourselves, which we can open up as soon as it’s good enough.