Facebook is launching a new initiative called “2G Tuesdays” that will give all employees an opportunity to see what using the app with an incredibly slow connection feels like and help close the “empathy gap” between Silicon Valley and emerging markets.
For most people, the stark differences will likely be jarring.
Engineering director Tom Alison remembers the first time he opened Facebook on a phone with a 2G connection.
“I felt like, ‘Whoa!'” Alison tells Business Insider. “It definitely tested my patience – it felt like parts of the product were just broken.”
Although most people with smartphones in the US use faster 3G or even 4G connections, millions of people all over the world are coming online for the first time with 2G. With that kind of connection, a webpage can take over two minutes to load.
That’s why Alison and his team of emerging-markets engineers have spent so much time reworking Facebook’s News Feed to optimize it for super-slow network speeds. As part of their job, they regularly use phones that simulate 2G and actually take trips to places like India and Kenya to get a better understanding of how people there use the product.
But because not all employees get to go on international trips, Facebook is instituting “2G Tuesdays.”
When a Facebook employee logs in to the app any Tuesday morning, they’ll see a prompt at the top of their News Feed asking whether they want to try out the slower connection for an hour.
“For that next hour, their experience on Facebook will be very much like the experience that millions of people around the world have on Facebook on a 2G connection,” Alison says. “They’re going to see the places that we need to improve our product, but they’re also going to see the places where we have made a lot of progress.”
Earlier this month, Facebook highlighted some of the updates and improvements that it’s made for the app in emerging markets.
For example, Facebook developed an open-sourced Network Connection Class system that lets its app figure out a user’s connection speed on the fly. It will then show different News Feed stories – for example, favoring status updates and links versus videos and photos on a super-slow connection – and prioritize loading things that the user is looking at versus partially loading a dozen pieces of content at once.
“You really experience your own Facebook in a much different way on 2G,” Alison says. “It’s really a visceral feeling when you see your own content on this type of connection.”
He anticipates that many employees will opt in to 2G Tuesdays – 2G Mondays just didn’t sound nearly as catchy, he jokes – to get a better understanding of what the internet feels like for people in different parts of the world and to help report issues and make suggestions that his team might not have thought of.