This Subtle Icon Change Shows How Facebook Is Becoming Less Americentric

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 31 2014 5:45 PM

Facebook’s Globe Is No Longer Americentric

Facebook globe notification icons

Screenshots via Facebook / Photo Illustration by Will Oremus

You know that little globe icon on the Facebook website that displays your pending notifications? Of course you do. It’s the first thing any self-respecting narcissist clicks on when they open Facebook. (That's pretty much all of us, by the way.)

Well, did you know that the globe looks different depending on where you are in the world? The default icon portrays the Americas:

Notif_Western

Image courtesy of Facebook.

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But as Tech in Asia recently pointed out, Facebook has quietly introduced a new icon for its desktop users in Europe, Africa, and Asia, which shows the globe from the other side. (Update: Facebook tells me the new globe was rolled out widely just on Wednesday, though it had been tested on some users prior to that.)* Log in from any of those continents, and you’ll see this icon instead:

Notif_Eastern

Image courtesy of Facebook.

It’s a small change, but it highlights something a lot of Americans might not realize: They’re vastly outnumbered on Facebook. The company reports that just 18.3 percent of its 829 million daily active users hail from the United States or Canada. A far larger percentage come from Asia, even with the site still mostly blocked in China.  

As of April 2013, the United States still clung to a thin lead for the most Facebook users of any single country, but India was closing fast. Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico rounded out the top five.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

More importantly for Facebook’s business and mission, Africa and Asia represent the company’s brightest prospects for future growth and are the focus of its Internet.org push to bring more of the world online at low costs.

On Thursday Facebook launched an Internet.org app that will allow users in developing countries to take advantage of some basic services like Google Search, AccuWeather, Wikipedia, and (of course) Facebook and Facebook Messenger without incurring any data charges. The app will be rolled out first to Airtel subscribers in Zambia, where it will also include free access to local jobs, health, library, and women’s rights apps.

This is why, when someone tells you that Facebook is dead because his 15-year-old sister thinks it’s uncool, you should take that anecdote for what it is—one data point from a country that represents an ever-smaller minority of the service’s massive global user base. Yes, American teens can be a bellwether for worldwide trends, but Facebook’s flock has grown too diverse for any one subset of sheep to lead. Like it or not, Facebook has crossed the line from fad to established multinational corporation, and it isn't going the way of MySpace anytime soon.

Hat tip: The Next Web

*Update, July 31, 2014: This post has been updated to clarify the timing of the new icon's rollout.

Previously in Slate:

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

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