What is the Internet?

Leo Mirani for Quartz: Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet

Remember this, from earlier this year?

AOL still makes most of its money off millions of dial-up subscribers

In light of the number of people who are still using dial-up access through AOL, even though there are almost certainly better alternatives available1, the lack of awareness many people worldwide show about what constitutes “the internet” should probably not be surprising.

For millions of Americans in the 90s, AOL was the internet, and considering the subscription numbers reported in that article from early 2015, it is almost certainly still considered the internet by those users. And this is in a first-world country with relatively affordable access to data and at least some formal education about technology. In parts of the world with less access to data, where Facebook actively subsidizes internet access through their portal, it should not be shocking that many people don’t draw a distinction, because for them there may not be one.

Facebook’s strategy is surprisingly similar to AOL’s, but much larger in scope. AOL sent CDs with free software and trial codes to everyone in the US. Facebook is doing the contemporary equivalent by subsidizing data on mobile in developing countries. Facebook stands to gain a huge audience worldwide for generations of user adoptions. It’s a very smart strategic use of resources, and seems to be beneficial for everyone involved.

At least for right now. Unlike Google, Facebook has never adopted an aspirational mantra, and we see how well that whole “don’t be evil” thing has been working for Google. Even the best of intentions erode over time.


  1. Maybe not surprising at all, considering how hard it seems to be to cancel an account