Facebook eyes emerging markets with ad-free Instagram Lite

The social-media network is courting developing markets with a more data-efficient app that doesn't feature advertising and requires only 2 megabytes to download.

Facebook is rolling out a pared back version of Instagram that uses minimal data by focusing on a handful of features as it looks to recruit its next phase of users—those living in rural and remote communities.

The new app, Instagram Lite, will be available to Android users and only requires 2 megabytes to download—considerably less than the full-size version, which is closer to 30 megabytes.

The app is rolling out to more than 170 countries today (March 11), including India, Thailand and Indonesia, followed by a wider global launch "soon", Facebook said.

The lighter download is a result of paring back features and offloading much of the code from the app and running it in the cloud instead.

The app strictly focuses on video and messaging, which the company said remote dwellers use more actively than their urban counterparts. It doesn't carry Instagram Shopping or many of the interactive features that Instagram has become synonymous with, such as the ability to make Reels and use AR filters, favouring instead features that require less data to operate, such as GIFs and stickers.

Notably, the app is advertising-free.

Dark mode, which allows users to switch from a bright white background to a black one with grey text, will be added to the app after it was requested during user testing.

"For people who live in communal areas and close quarters, it’s really important to browse more privately and not bother those around them," explained Michelle Lourie, a product manager at Facebook, who is part of the team responsible for developing Instagram Lite.

The developers also redesigned icons to make their purpose clearer to internet newcomers. For example, they found during testing that the trash-can icon did not resonate as a symbol for getting rid of something, so it was changed to an “X” .

Lourie and her team in Tel Aviv worked with a New York-based team including Instagram engineering, product, design, and research to develop the new app.

They borrowed learnings from the development of Facebook Lite, also created out of Tel Aviv. Facebook Lite launched in 2015 in developing countries, and subsequently rolled out to major markets such as the US from 2018. It now has more than 200 million monthly active users, according to Tzach Hadar, director of product management for all of Facebook’s Lite apps, who is based in Tel Aviv.

In a blog post announcing Instagram Lite, Hadar said: "Our teams build these lightweight versions of our apps for people with low connectivity or limited data plans because our basic premise is to leave no one behind."

"We wanted the Instagram experience to remain fast, high-quality, and reliable, irrespective of the device, platform and network people are on."

Facebook also launched a lightweight version of Messenger in October 2016 and rolled it out to the US and other markets in 2017.

This story first appeared on Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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