Internet-Free Twitter Access Coming To Emerging Markets In 2014

Twitter is following in the footsteps of Facebook and gearing up to offer an internet-free version of Twitter in emerging markets. The social network is partnering with Singapore-based startup U2opia Mobile, which has already been working with Facebook and Google Talk to provide disconnected versions of their feeds.

Once the service goes live, people in emerging markets who do not have Internet access on their phones will be able to enter a code and receive their Twitter feed in text format.

U2opia relies on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) in order to provide people with access to their social networks without an actual Internet connection. This form of data delivery does not allow people to receive photos or videos, but it works fine for receiving text updates.

“USSD as a vehicle for Twitter is almost hand in glove because Twitter has by design a character limit, it’s a very text-driven social network.” – Sumesh Menon, U2opia Chief Executive

The service does have some limitations as it will provide a stripped-down version of Twitter, which is based around someone’s location. Even if someone has a Twitter account at home, the feed displayed on their phone will not show content from their followers. Instead, it will only show trending topics in their area.

U2opia is already setup to work in 30 countries and seven languages.

“So somebody in Paraguay would definitely get content that would be very very localized to that market vis a vis somebody sitting in Mumbai or Bangalore.” – Menon

Nearly 80% of mobile users in emerging markets do not have access to the Internet on their phones, which has become a roadblock for social networks. Since Twitter is based around text, it is easier to bring its service to a disconnected phone. However, U2opia has already provided solutions for Facebook which tends to be more graphics-based, making the disconnected service significantly different than the full version of Facebook.

Fonetwish, the service which provides access to Facebook and Google Talk, is already being used by 11 million people around the world. Since Twitter tends to be a great source of information (particularly in emerging markets), it will likely attract an even larger amount of international users.

So far, India and a handful of countries in Africa and South America have made up the majority of Fonetwish’s user base.