According to local start-up legend, Facebook passed on Waze when it had a chance to buy the Israeli traffic-cheating app: The social media giant did not want to open an office in Israel, and the heads of Waze were determined to keep the operation here.
We’ll probably never know the truth behind that rumor — but if there was once a reluctance to embrace Israel, the billion-plus social networking company is here in Israel now, and in fact is turning its Israel operation into a showplace for the rest of the company.
In their first major press event Sunday, Facebook Israel’s Adi Sofer-Te’eni and Ro’i Tiger — she, head of Israeli market affairs; and he, head of R&D — showed off the company’s new downtown Tel Aviv digs (the company officially started operations here last summer) and discussed aspects of what the company was doing here in Israel — especially its contributions to Facebook’s “Internet of Good” project.
Among the projects Facebook Israel is concentrating on, for example, is Facebook’s Internet.org project, which provides access to basic, free Internet services in the developing world.
“We’ve been developing apps for the platform, and they are now being deployed by people in the Philippines, India, Ghana, and many other places,” said Tiger.
The project is designed to enable the billions of people lacking in Internet access to tap into the web using their cellphones, explained Tiger. Many people in places like India and Africa do have cellphones, but they certainly aren’t the iPhones and Samsung Galaxies that most Westerners carry. Instead, they are simple devices that may offer online access — but at a high cost, due to the poor connectivity in many areas. With the apps being developed by Facebook, users will be able to engage more actively on the Internet, while keeping costs down.
One important way to keep prices down is by keeping connection costs down, which is exactly what Onavo was doing when Facebook purchased the company in 2013. Onavo’s Extend app enables users to get as much as five times more web browsing, social networking, and video watching on the limited bandwidth most users were forced to adhere to in 2011, when the app was first released.
Since then, prices have dropped sufficiently in Western countries to allow many users to purchase unlimited data plans. This means that crunching down the data — to fit into the measly one or two gigs of connectivity the cellphone service providers had been giving to their customers — was no longer necessary.
But in the developing world, the kind of data saving developed by Onavo — now Facebook Israel — will come in very handy. “It’s a new concept called the ‘Internet of Good,’ a concept that Mark [Facebook CEO Zuckerberg] has talked about. For us, it’s a great thing to be able to get up in the morning and not only do a challenging job, but one we know is helping people around the world,” explained Tiger.
And Facebook — both international and Israel — plans on expanding that effort, said Sofer-Te’eni, with the company planning to hire about 40 people in the coming year, among them engineers, designers, and advertising executives who can work with the local market.
“Israel is a small market, but a very important one for Facebook,” she went on. “Israelis are very tech-savvy, always ahead of the curve — the kind of people who are not afraid to try something new. That is exactly the kind of company Facebook is.
“One of Mark’s favorite expressions is that we shouldn’t be afraid to ‘break things,’ to try something new and make changes. Israelis are very good at that. For Facebook, Israel is a real home away from home.”