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How Facebook lost the battle for internet.org — and won anyway

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Facebook spent the better part of the past half-decade promoting internet.org, its ambitious effort t
 
May 17 · Issue #139 · View online
The Interface
Facebook spent the better part of the past half-decade promoting internet.org, its ambitious effort to bring all of the world’s people online (and onto Facebook). For most of that time, Jessi Hempel had a front-row seat. CEO Mark Zuckerberg granted her regular interviews about the internet.org’s progress, which he painted largely as a humanitarian effort. 
Then internet.org hit a major roadblock in India, and Facebook all but stopped doing public relations around the project. (It didn’t help matters that, in September 2016, a SpaceX rocket carrying a Facebook satellite blew up.) As Hempel writes in a good look back today in Wired:
My story was published in January 2016, a month before India banned Facebook’s app altogether. Shortly after that, Facebook stopped talking about Internet.org. While bits of news about the company’s drone project or new connectivity efforts still emerge, Facebook hasn’t updated the press releases on the Internet.org website in a year. That led me to wonder, what exactly happened to Internet.org?
The short version is that Facebook is just as committed to getting people online as it ever was. But internet.org violated net neutrality principles and found little enthusiasm among the wireless carriers needed to make it succeed. So Facebook invested in a bunch of other projects, which it runs out of a division called the Connectivity Lab. One of those projects is an internet plane named Aquila, which I’ve written about at some length; another involves giant outdoor Wi-Fi networks. 
Those projects have struggled as well. Aquila crashed in its first flight, a fact Facebook omitted from its initial PR blitz on the subject. And Terragraph, which is supposed to bring free high-speed Wi-Fi to downtown San Jose, has faced delays.  Neither project got a mention during the F8 keynote this year, which was notable in Terragraph’s case given that the event transpired in … downtown San Jose.
But as Hempel notes, people are coming online anyway: 600 million since internet.org was created, she says. Of them, Facebook has taken credit for 100 million — and, judging from recent earnings reports, many of them have found their way onto Facebook
Internet.org may have (mostly) failed, but Facebook’s efforts to bring more people online have borne fruit. The effort have been expensive, but it will probably make Facebook money in the long run. 
A business adage holds that you should be firm in principles, and flexible on strategy and tactics. Internet.org was never more than a tactic, and as it fades into the background, other tactics have taken its place. 

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Elsewhere
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Instagram is back in San Francisco, with new recruits in its sights
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Big proxy adviser ISS does not support Facebook's Zuckerberg in proxy vote
Launches
YouTube Music launches Tuesday; YouTube Red will be replaced by YouTube Premium, which will cost more
Instagram is letting users share posts directly to their stories
Snapchat Spectacles tests non-circular landscape exports
And finally ...
V2 is dead, but Vine’s devoted forum-dwellers aren’t giving up
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? casey@theverge.com
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