Democratizing Global Internet Connectivity with Facebook’s Internet.org
Currently, two-thirds of the world’s population live without affordable access to the internet. With Express Wi-Fi, Internet.org partners with carriers, internet service providers, and local entrepreneurs to help expand connectivity to underserved locations around the world from the bottom-up. By establishing fast, low-cost Wi-Fi access points in geographies with minimal connectivity, Express Wi-Fi equips existing community businesses with the tools to provide their neighbors with quality internet access, while also drawing a steady income. The project is currently live in India, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Indonesia.
As a product design intern in 2016, I designed a set of touch points between the retailer experience—the interface local community business owners use to distribute data—and the consumer experience—the interface customers use to then manage their data. That’s two different products, multiple different devices, and a myriad of technical and ethnographic considerations. This page details four use cases between these two experiences.
RECHARGING A CUSTOMER’S DATA
Imagine you run a corner grocery store that sells Express Wi-Fi data packs, and a customer asks for a 500 MB pack.
At the moment, the vast majority of retailers’ time on the app is spent recharging customers’ data. For our power users with frequent customer queues, the ability to top up multiple people in quick succession is key. Instead of searching for customers by group or name, retailers find it more effective to search by mobile number for precision and use names to verify their identity—oftentimes, they might even hand the device to the customer to enter their number themselves. As carriers continue to test different data pack offerings, options often come in variable types, quantities, and frequencies, adding complexity to the interface.
In this recharge experience, your ‘Recharge’ homepage features a mobile number search up top for easy, consistent access. After searching for your customer by their mobile number, you’re presented with a clear, scalable menu of packs and prices to choose from. A simple and lightweight two-tap interaction allows you to select and confirm a pack sale in seconds.
However, searching and recharging a customer can be complicated by their keystore—they might not be registered to Express Wi-Fi, or they might be registered but new to your shop in particular.
Let’s start with the latter. This customer has an account with Express Wi-Fi, but isn’t yet added to your customer list (much like a person who has a Facebook account, but isn’t your friend yet). Thankfully, topping them up is just as quick and easy. Searching an unrecognized number returns an option to add them to your list, which pings the Express Wi-Fi customer database for any matches. If the customer is indeed registered, they’ll be seamlessly added to your list, ready for their top up.
REGISTERING A NEW CUSTOMER
A customer new to Express Wi-Fi would like to register for an account and buy data.
A common snag in the recharge flow we noticed is when retailers attempt to add an unregistered number, and all they’re given is an error message. When this happens, retailers have to wait and ask their customer to register online—or, in some cases, even take their phone and do it for them. Using the same workflow as before, we can not only identify customers who are unregistered, but also jumpstart their registration in lieu of passively waiting.
Instead of an error message, searching an unregistered number here returns an option to text the customer with a link to sign up. With their number now given to Express Wi-Fi, the groundwork for their account has already been laid.
As a customer, you’ll receive the aforementioned text. Clicking the link takes you to a simple sign-up landing page. All you have to do to begin using Express Wi-Fi is enter your name and agree to the legal terms.
FINDING A RECHARGE SHOP
Now imagine you’re a customer—you’re new in town, and you need help finding a recharge shop in your area.
How we navigate and interact with our environment changes across geography. Digital wayfinding strategies we might be accustomed to in the west (e.g. Google Maps) are not as accessible or reliable in less mapped areas of the world. For example, our research team found that addresses and maps are rarely used in rural India—in fact, homes and small shops might not even have official street addresses. Instead, wayfinding is often accomplished almost entirely through word of mouth, like asking your neighbor for oral directions and referencing prominent visual cues—for example, “the shop is by the orange sign in front of the school.”
From the homepage, tapping the ‘Recharge Shops’ tab takes you to a catalog of designated Express Wi-Fi retailers in your town, beginning with the nearest one. A simple, lo-fi map conveys the general proximity of each store within the town layout without overwhelming the interface and consuming too much data. Each shop card explores a couple ways to help customers choose and navigate shops, like surfacing a photo of the storefront for easy visual cues, and including a short, written description of the location as a more localized alternative to an address. These cards are followed by links to view other shops in nearby villages.
If you’ve found a shop of interest, you might want to call for directions and get more information. As outgoing calls are often expensive and limited in emerging markets, customers also have the option of requesting a call from the shop by placing an automated missed call. (This is a common communication practice worldwide—you dial a number and hang up before it’s answered as a way of pinging someone to call you back without incurring any cost.)
Once you’ve found your shop, tapping into the ‘Data Packs’ page provides you with a menu of pack options and pricing, allowing you to make a more informed purchase. Simple upsell messaging here can help migrate people towards longer-term connectivity.
REQUESTING A DATA PACK
You’re now a repeat customer at your local recharge shop, and interested in quicker, more efficient ways to get your data.
Much like we’ve “decentralized” the customer registration experience with retailer-initiated sign-ups, perhaps we can do the same for the pack purchase experience. What if customers could begin the transaction from anywhere, at any time? The caveat remains that many communities globally are unbanked, meaning they can't complete their payments digitally and must often use cash in person. However, it’s also not uncommon for folks to pay with credit or some other alternative to cash; in some cases, retailers might even front their neighbors on goodwill. Regardless, allowing people to proactively order data might be a way to galvanize more interest in data and the internet.
You’ve just run out of data and are eager to get more, but you’re far from the nearest recharge shop. You tap ‘Request Pack.’ If it’s your first time, an illustrative interstitial describes this feature and emphasizes that this is only a request—not a payment. Your checkout form defaults to your last recharge shop and purchase, with option to change. Your confirmation indicates the amount still due, and a notification at the top of your homepage allows you to revisit these details any time. You then call your dad to drop off twelve dollars at the shop on his way home from work.
This feature was largely inspired by the need to bridge the gender gap in internet literacy worldwide. Our research team discovered that many women were unable to visit local shops to purchase data due to cultural norms around domesticity and visibility in public space. In fact, at the time of this study, 98% of Express Wi-Fi customers in a populous territory in India were men—only 2% were women. However, the women interviewed had a clear need and desire to access the internet. In one town, women had climbed onto the roofs of houses to better access nearby Wi-Fi hotspots without technically leaving their home.
Just as having to rely on family and friends to purchase groceries for you doesn’t stop a woman from needing food, cultural differences and a lack of mobile finance shouldn’t preclude women from accessing the internet. The same logic goes doubly for folks with disabilities, and any other marginalized group for whom accessibility should be a right, not a privilege. It’s arrogant to assume technology alone could ever ameliorate this, but perhaps there are small affordances and bits of thoughtfulness we can sew into what we build to make our work more inclusive.