Facebook, the world’s largest social network, recently decided to reach out to developing countries and sent several of its social network’s engineers to Africa to research the functionality of its android apps. Although Facebook currently has 1.2 billion users around the world, the social network is now targeting a new 5 billion users who live in more remote, yet developing countries. These markets have struggled with basic mobile devices and an assortment of network connections. Their research proved to be both eye-opening and successful.
Alex Sourov, a Facebook engineering manager, led a team of researchers on a conquest in Africa to determine how they could make more accessible, its Android application. In order to do so, the team had to acquire multiple android handsets so that the latest version of the Facebook app could be tested in these areas with limitations. What they found was that the testing proved to be a difficult and challenging process. A conglomeration of issues were reported. The network connection offered intermittent low-bandwidth along with minimal memory space on the devices, resulting in frequent crashes and very slow load times. The monthly data plans were exhausted within 40 minutes.
Recognizing these issues to be unacceptable, Sourov’s team pinpointed the necessary adjustments, thus making several improvements. The android’s app performance is now improved along with networking, application size, and data efficiency. The start times, News Feed load, and the data usages were each reduced by 50 percent. The reports of failed image loads were reduced by 90 percent. Perhaps the biggest news was that the Android app shrunk its overall size by 65 percent. This alone is huge, because of the limited disk space in the more popular mobile devices, as it eliminates the barrier of installing app upgrades which will now give them features that are up-to-date.
Obstacles that Facebook encountered while working to improve the data efficiency as they reached out to these developing countries, had to do with the fact that it was laborious to purchase as well as expensive. Sourov’s team devised a solution. Step one was to use alternative compression formats for image transmission, so they switched to Google’s WebP instead of JPEG and PNGs, which created a 25 to 30 percent savings on data. With the second step they chose to load images that would cut the data consumption by 50 percent. The third step entailed the fine tuning process to cache and reuse images.
Images are a crucial part of Facebook and the goal is to improve the data savings by optimizing the download size which would enhance app performance. The social network is making strides to invest in increasing the reliability of its networking stack performance, zeroing in on the pre-fetching algorithims, thus eliminating the intermittent connection issues. These changes are expected to enable all devices to function well in all available network conditions, and it lines up with Facebook’s initiative through Internet.org to globally connect more people. This social media recognizes its saturation in the primary markets, as it directs its focus to the rise of interest in the developing countries.
Developers can now recreate the poor infrastructure conditions in developing countries through Facebook’s Innovation Lab which has partnered with Ericsson, that enables research teams to develop and test apps for greater efficiency. The research and findings through Sourov’s team had been made available to Instagram and Messenger apps so that they too can improve their performance levels in the emerging countries. Facebook reaching into these developing countries proves their commitment not only to extend the Internet into the entire world, but to “connect their face,” throughout every part of the globe as well.
By Jill Boyer-Adriance