Editor's note: Our report earlier this month on the mobile ebook subscription service 24symbols' new role in the Internet.org project led by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg led us to ask 24symbols' founder and chief development officer Justo Hidalgo if he could tell us more about the partnership. Hidalgo agreed, and today, we're glad to have his account of why "we think it can be such a big deal" to join forces this way. - Porter Anderson
When we look back at what we have achieved in our lifetime, I don’t think most of us will focus on how much money we made, the expensive cars we drove or the work we finished late at night, but on the impact we made on society and on the people we care for the most.
A couple of weeks ago my company announced a partnership with Facebook where 24symbols would become one of the free services offered under Internet.org, the program announced by Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, at Mobile World Congress in 2013.
But what is Internet.org and why do we think it can be such a big deal?
Internet.org aims to provide not only Internet access to the two-thirds of the world population that don’t currently have it (by itself a huge endeavor) but also to reach those people who, with full or partial connectivity around them, do not see value in actually using the Internet. And this is for us the most interesting part of it (we would not be able to help much on building drones ;) ).
Our vision from the start has been that everybody should be able to read all books in the world wherever they are, whenever they want, in an easy way, and at a reasonable price. We are doing our part by offering the biggest international catalog possible, with free registration for people to browse the catalog, to create their own bookshelves and to get a taste of what great literature there is, and offering the best possible price either directly or through great partners like mobile carriers around the world who offer customers free data.
But we were missing a part, which only a company like Facebook could fulfill: the Internet.org app.
Launched already in Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana and Colombia, the Internet.org app, through partnerships with key mobile carriers in each country, provides a set of basic services – enabling people to browse useful information and Web sites free.
"Free" means that the person needs to have a mobile phone but does not need to pay for a data plan.
As Mark Zuckerberg explains it, everyone deserves access to basic Internet service, which can help improve their lives: search for jobs, Google, look something up on Wikipedia, find the nearest doctor, or read books on 24symbols.
Scaled down to comply with lower-end smartphones and feature phones, the apps and web services are simple and to the point. Exactly how all existing services should be, by the way ;)
This creates incredible potential as people might feel compelled to check these services out, and start using the Internet as a way to improve their literacy, their business or their education.
As the 2014 UNESCO report compiled with Worldreader, Reading in the Mobile Era clearly states, providing similar tools to the whole population is the only way to avoid the Matthew Effect, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
The report explains that countries like Nigeria, in which there is only one library for every 1.3 million people, cannot expect to have advanced print book distribution any time soon. However, that same country is Africa’s biggest mobile market with over 70-percent penetration (though with a unique subscriber penetration of only 30 percent, as stated by the GSMA Report on this country last June 2014. Ebooks are an alternative to offer education and literacy programs at the highest level and quality possible.
This does not solve all the issues our civilizations face. But someone once said that if you want to tackle the problems of a region on the long term, you should focus on education. Reading is the core of all educational activities, and we are working on it.
P.S. By no means is this project the only existing one trying to reach a similar goal. The wonderful project Worldreader has always been in my mind while building 24symbols. There are many ways to reach the same goal, and I will be happy to see people reading everywhere, however they do it.
Main image - Shutterstock: Meunierd -- Masai women in Ngorogoro, Tanzania. The Internet.org programme was rolled out in that country on 29th October 2014.