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If you've used Facebook, you've probably lamented a few things. Despite the fact that Facebook generally has a clean interface, navigating all of its features is not the easiest thing in the world. And Facebook isn't the most responsive website either.
In an effort to simplify the experience and make it faster for those who don't have a high-speed connection (or a lot of time to waste), Facebook has launched a version of its website called Facebook Lite. Currently it's available to users in the United States and India via lite.facebook.com but most expect it to be rolled out globally sooner than later.
As the name implies, Facebook Lite is, well, light. Gone is much of the clutter and overhead that can make the Facebook experience confusing and time-consuming. Facebook Lite profiles provide little more than the bare essentials: friends, photos, videos, events, info, inbox and wall. Updating your status and adding new content is essentially a one or two click process.
From a user experience perspective, Facebook Lite is Facebook nirvana. It adds about as much Twitter-like simplicity as is probably possible on a full-fledged social network.
But from a developer perspective, Facebook Lite is perhaps the worst thing since sliced bread. That's because Facebook-lite is app-free. That's right, there are no third party apps available through it from what I can see. So if you've spent lots of time and money developing apps for Facebook, the specter of a popular Facebook Lite is probably not a pretty one.
While it's far too early to predict what the real implications of Facebook Lite will be in practice for developers, this is yet another reminder that developers reliant on third party platforms don't really have a stable business environment in which to operate. If Facebook Lite takes off and Facebook doesn't offer a way for third party apps to join the party, developers will lose out. To what extent is anyone's guess but let's put it this way: how many Facebook users who like what the Lite version has to offer will avoid it simply because they want to tend to their farms?
For Facebook, offering a lite version makes a lot of sense. Much of its growth has been international and in some countries, broadband access is still a luxury. With Lite, Facebook can offer users without that luxury a better experience. But like developers, Lite could complicate things commercially for Facebook. Two examples of how:
- For the growing number of brands and celebrities using Facebook as a key touchpoint for interacting with consumers, customers and fans, for instance, Facebook Lite could be a real turn-off. After all, many brands and celebrities are making extensive use of apps and Facebook Page landing tabs. So if Facebook Lite takes off and much of their investment is devalued, it could jeopardize Facebook's commercial relationships.
- Assuming that Facebook eventually rolls out a payment system that app developers can utilize for virtual goods sales, it would seem that Facebook would need to figure out a way to integrate third party apps into Facebook Lite. How to do that without destroying the simplicity that Facebook Lite users will probably come to expect is a challenge.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Facebook has definitely become more complicated and 'bloated' so Facebook Lite will certainly come as a relief to some users. But successfully providing two distinct user experiences and keeping app developers and commercial partners happy at the same time could prove to be a tall order.
Photo credit: Robyn Gallagher via Flickr.