Facebook is aggressively pursuing the international and developing world markets Snapchat hasn’t prioritized. Facebook Lite recently hit 200 million users, and Instagram just rolled out offline mode for Android. Now after launching Messenger Lite for Android in five countries in October, it’s expanding to over 100 more, including Vietnam, Nigeria, Peru, Turkey, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.
Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus announced the rollout today, saying “Making sure that everyone can have a great experience with Messenger irrespective of the age of their smartphone is very important to us.”[Correction: Facebook and Marcus both incorrectly billed today’s near-global rollout as going to 150 more countries. After a bunch of back and forth, with Facebook then saying the number was 132, a spokesperson now tells me it’s unclear what the exact number is, but it’s well over 100. What we do know is where it’s not available: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Philippines, Sudan, UK, US and North Korea. We’ve updated this story to reflect that.]
Messenger Lite offers Messenger’s core features like messaging, photo and link sharing and stickers, but lacks the more data-intensive new features like Messenger Day, camera effects and the outside developer app platform.
The app was made to be a small file so it downloads quickly and doesn’t take up much space on memory-constrained old phones. It’s designed to minimize data use to save people money and still work on slow or unstable connections like 2G networks. It works offline and delivers messages when you regain connection, and is compatible with almost any Android phone, including the old Gingerbread OS.
Now at 1.2 billion users, most of Messenger’s audience is outside the United States. If Facebook can make it more convenient for them to use its chat app instead of standard and more expensive SMS, it creates a big reason to stay in the Facebook family of apps. Messaging has emerged as the center of the mobile experience, and owning it worldwide is crucial to Facebook’s continued power.
Snap Inc. meanwhile touts the concentration of 60 percent of its users in the world’s top 10 advertising markets as a benefit for efficiency because these markets monetize better. But because Snapchat is inherently high-bandwidth due to all the video content, it doesn’t work as well in developing markets. It hasn’t focused on these markets or on Android, so when a low-end Android bug emerged, it ended up contributing to Snapchat seeing minimal user growth in the Rest of World region.
That’s a big risk for Snapchat. International growth drives the ubiquity that leads to network effect, making social networks more sticky. The scale also attracts advertisers. As Facebook and Snapchat increasingly compete for mobile users and ad dollars, Facebook’s robust international growth strategy could be a deciding factor.