Word’s just leaked, before a formal announcement, of a new super-light, text-only version of Facebook designed for simple cell phone interactions. It looks like it’s designed to further  Facebook’s penetration  into daily life. And it might be free. But only for a little taste.
The system is called Facebook Zero, and it was almost accidentally revealed earlier Tuesday during a 20-minute keynote address by Facebook’s Chamath Palihapitiya at the Mobile World Congress event. The obsessives at TechCrunch noticed that Facebook’s not revealed the system yet.
The idea is that Facebook’s drummed up some pretty neat deals with a large number of cell phone providers across the globe and has written some code that presents a user’s Facebook news stream as a text-only entity that can be accessed via a phone’s browser at zero.facebook.com . The trick is that it’s free of charge. And that will be an extremely interesting idea to many millions of Facebook addicts who’ve yet to make the leap to full-on smartphone tech, or who have limited data packages as part of their mobile broadband contract with their cell phone network. (Get ready for that, America, it’s coming.)
Sounds fabulous, doesn’t it? But there’s actually some subtle marketing going on here. Died-in-the wool Facebook addicts may be tempted to switch to a different carrier that offers Facebook Zero if their current one doesn’t–which is good and bad for the cell phone carriers in question. And once a user clicks on a Facebook Zero item to see more, perhaps to view a friend’s photo, for example, then they’ll be whisked to the full Facebook site, their carrier will levy a small data-access charge, and thus will earn some more revenue (the crack dealer model for mobile data consumption, perhaps). As far as Facebook itself is concerned, of course, the benefit is that even more people will interact with its services and for more time–enabling greater ad placement sales. Facebook may even be hoping that by encouraging free access via cell phone that people will do more of the real-time status updating that it’s really hoping to sell to search engines and news aggregators like Google.