MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook has been quietly working for more than two years on a project that is vital to expanding its base of 1.1 billion users: getting the social network onto the billions of cheap, simple “feature phones” that have largely disappeared in America and Europe but are still the norm in developing countries like India and Brazil.
Facebook soon plans to announce the first results of the initiative, which it calls Facebook for Every Phone: More than 100 million people, or roughly 1 out of 8 of its mobile users worldwide, now regularly access the social network from more than 3,000 different models of feature phones, some costing as little as $20.
Many of those users, who rank among the world’s poorest people, pay little or nothing to download their Facebook news feeds and photos, with the data usage subsidized by phone carriers and manufacturers. Facebook has only just begun to sell ads to these customers, so it isn’t making money from them yet. But the countries in which the simple phone software is doing the best — India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil and Vietnam — are among the fastest-growing markets for use of the Internet and social networks, according to the research firm eMarketer.
Analysts say that Facebook has a powerful opportunity to win the long-term loyalty of millions of new global users by giving them their first taste of Internet through Facebook on a simple cellphone.
“In a lot of foreign markets, people think that the Internet is Facebook,” said Clark Fredricksen, a vice president at eMarketer.