Facebook Israel develops new Instagram lite app

Written by on October 20, 2020

Instagram Lite was created in Tel Aviv as part of a global effort to make the internet, and web applications, accessible to the global market.

A photo illustration shows the applications Facebook and Instagram on the screen of an iPhone (photo credit: ANTONIO BRONIC/ REUTERS)

A photo illustration shows the applications Facebook and Instagram on the screen of an iPhone

(photo credit: ANTONIO BRONIC/ REUTERS)

Facebook Israel announces new Instagram lite app. (Facebook Israel)Facebook Israel announces new Instagram lite app. (Facebook Israel)

Facebook Israel unveiled the new Instagram lite app on Tuesday during a virtual press conference. In a nod towards the Instagram culture of sharing cute photographs on social media, reporters got a delivery of tiny decorated cupcakes on their doorstep – a kind gesture during the age of COVID-19 where most press conferences are done at home. 

As the name implies, Instagram Lite is indeed light and only takes 2 MB of memory to operate on the user’s phone. This is crucial to allow millions of people in developing countries to have access to the social media app as their conditions are very different from users in more developed countries.

For example, they might skip lunch to afford buying online minutes. Once they run out of time, they won’t use the web again until the end of the month. People often share one phone between family members and, because they live together, request a dark screen mode so as not to disturb others when they sleep. 

Software engineering manager Tzach Hadar explained that, to offer users the best possible experience without delays or interruptions, some of the “heavy lifting” is done on the servers used by Facebook itself. This is against the trend in the developed world of the “edge” experience, meaning to ensure that processing is done as close to the user as possible. “Yet these are the conditions such users have,” he explained.  

In India, for example, 45% of users have a 2G network and one out of three phone owners gets a message that they had run out of memory. To ensure that the developers get a grip on how their future clients experience the app, the Israeli team members were given phones with low memory and told to use them when they examine the app. The team also found creative ways to get users feedback from Egypt and other countries during COVID-19, when flights became impossible.  

Reporters were shown a lively video with cute dogs, LGBT hashtags and a black model wearing a mask with the caption “I can’t breathe.” In response to the Post, Product Manager Michelle Lourie explained that Lite Instagram users will be given the same access to the same contents as anyone else, including gay rights and Black Lives Matter, but they also have the freedom to control what they wish to be exposed to. 

Facebook Israel announces new Instagram lite app. (Facebook Israel)Facebook Israel announces new Instagram lite app. (Facebook Israel)

Software Engineering Manager Gal Zellermayer noted that Facebook is also offering express wi-fi to communities without Internet, for example, in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya. The Instagram Lite product is, in that sense, the next step, and the monetizing process will follow that. For example, introducing a virtual wallet in developing markets to purchase goods and services online or creating a virtual presence for a small shop in a community with little access to regular Internet.  

The Instagram Lite product, like Facebook Lite which followed similar lines and was also developed in the office of Facebook Israel, is also available to people in the first world. Refugees or migrant workers might even prefer to use them even if they live in wealthy countries. 

“The challenge is how to create a good user experience for people who never had an email account or a password before,” Zellermayer explained.  

Now employing hundreds of workers, the Facebook Israel office had been working since 2013 and is the second largest Facebook center outside the US. 

“I joined Facebook just seven months ago for this project, to bring this application for people who had weak phones,” Zellermayer said. “It sounded magical to me.”

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