Are Zero Data websites the future?

By Geoff Muskett

Some of the biggest players in the web today have Zero Data versions of their services. Facebook has, google has, and wikipedia has Wikipedia Zero (I couldn’t find the web address for that one).

The idea is that these online titans team with major phone service providers. End users receive free access to these lightweight apps. Which means using the sites on a phone would not effect data allowance. This trend could benefit economic progress in the developing world, which is the next frontier for the web.

Greedy internet giants?

I can see a lot of good coming from Zero Data sites. I suspect the main goal for Facebook and Google is to establish themselves as “the internet” for the developing word. They see it as a way in, to monopolise the web for the next 5 billion users.

Google and Facebook will both cite the social benefits. And promote their initiatives that enable bettereducation, health, and environmental standards. There’s nothing wrong with that. If PR is a catalyst to helping people, then I endorse it.

Information access

Wikipedia’s goal is more wholesome; to reduce the barrier of access to information. Super important, and worthwhile.

Zero Data, and the rest of the web

I’m excited by the prospect of Zero Data, and would love to try these services. Neither Facebook, Google nor Wikipedia have teamed with my phone provider, EE, so at least for now I can’t access them.

Zero Data could well filter down to the wider web, even as smart phones get smarter.

Android overtaking the iPhone in marketshare is proof that money talks. If people can access the same information without eating up data allowance, and therefor money, they will.

Savvy data consumption

It may take a while, but when mobile users become more savvy with data usage, lightweight sites will start to rise to the top. Apps that alert users about heavy sites before they visit are not a major stretch of the imagination. I would install such an app.

Data Roaming

The Zero Data concept is an attractive one for data roaming too. On a recent holiday to France, my wife’s experience was that Facebook didn’t use too much of her allowance. Whereas browsing the general web, ate up data like pac man in a pac-dot factory.

Where we’re headed

All this means it that we need to build websites in a responsible fashion. Start from a mobile standpoint, with nothing on the page that isn’t necessary, and build out to larger screens from there.

Of course there has to be a balance between a site’s speed and it’s aesthetic. I image is almost completely stripped back. As a designer I want the site to look great as well as be responsible. Luckily technology is such that we can have both. CSS is getting more and more powerful and with better support for SVG graphics, we’re reducing the need for raster images.

If Zero Data becomes a trend, then part of making a future proof website is going to evolve. We’ll continue making standards compliant, responsive, progressively enhanced site. But we’ll be going the extra mile to make sure we’re sending minimal and optimised data. It’s doing everything we can to cap data usage, and do our bit for a faster, more accessible web.


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