Facebook, the world’s largest social media company, has crossed 100 million active users in India — the second country, after the United States, in which it has done so. “We crossed the landmark on March 31,” Javier Olivan, vice-president, growth & analytics, Facebook, told ET on a video call from its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, on April 7.
The ascent of Facebook in India has been speedy and has been powered by the mobile phone. When the American company set up its first India office in 2010, in Hyderabad, it had 8 million users in the country. Further, according to Facebook, 84 million of its 100 million users in India access the social networking site from their mobile devices.
Facebook, which was set up in 2004, had 1.23 billion users across the world, as of December 31, 2013. “If Facebook continues its current growth trajectory, we can see it as a core communications tool for the world,” says Neha Dharia, analyst with UK-based research firm Ovum. “This besides being a media platform where users can share and engage in a range of media such as videos, pictures and games. We expect to see a stronger move around storage (cloud-based) and utility services from Facebook.”
For Facebook, the US remains its biggest market, with about 183 million users, though perhaps not for long, given the inflexion point India is at with regards to Internet usage, especially on the mobile. According to Olivan, who is one of the three people in the company who report directly to founder Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook is now “looking forward” to 1 billion users in India, a numerical figure it intends to chase with specific initiatives aimed at increasing connectivity, affordability and relevance. “That (1 billion) is a different focus and challenge,” he says.
Olivan says much of the challenge of going from 1 million to 10 million in India was about optimising the product for users. For example, removing the condition that a user needed to have an email ID of an American college to access Facebook. From 10 million to 100 million, he adds, it was about improving experience on low-end devices and offering it in languages other than English. “For 1 billion, we need easy connectivity, the biggest challenge of our generation,” he says.
One of the initiatives it is focused on to widen connectivity is internet.org, a partnership it has with six mobile technology companies to provide affordable Internet access to the unconnected. It is also working with telecom companies to increase data adoption among users in emerging markets like India. On this trajectory, it’s only a matter of time before the Facebook user base in India crosses that of the US.