Free Basics User Journey


Sacha Robehmed

This is the third of a three-part blog series by REFUNITE’s Middle East Project Manager, reflecting on her findings from a research trip to Iraq (see part 1 and part 2). This post focuses on testing Free Basics, REFUNITE’s collaboration with Facebook’s zero-rated internet platform.

Free Basics User Journey

Accessing REFUNITE online for free in Iraq

 

In autumn 2015, REFUNITE partnered with Internet.org, the initiative launched by Facebook to allow free access to Facebook and selected services. This partnership helps as many people as possible access REFUNITE. For instance, in the first three months alone in Iraq, we saw more than 12,000 people sign up. Iraq is our highest growth country for registrations via Free Basics. This piqued our curiosity. Why were people signing up? And what was the experience of using Free Basics in Iraq like? One of the most exciting aspects of my research trip to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in March was trying out REFUNITE on Free Basics, and getting a feel of what the service is like for our users. I’ll lead you through my user journey…

 

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Welcome page in Arabic (left) and English (right)

 

On the welcome page, you choose your language – REFUNITE is currently available in English and Arabic for Iraqi users. After the welcome page, there are six categories, which you can click into and see related services. Alternatively, scrolling down, all the services offered through Free Basics are listed below the six categories, in alphabetical order.

 

Categories (left) and the list of available services when scrolling down (right)

Categories (left) and the list of available services when scrolling down (right)

 

I found REFUNITE under the communications category, right below Facebook and Messenger. This placement, coupled with the English brief description of “Connecting families,” flagged the possibility that users were not being made aware of the purpose of REFUNITE as a place to search for missing family and friends. The description on the equivalent Arabic language page is “لم الشمل العائلات” (Reuniting families), which is much clearer. We’ve noted this description as an issue we could work on to improve the experience of a first-time user.

 

REFUNITE under the ‘Communications” category (left) and experimenting with Free Basics with 3G turned off (right)

REFUNITE under the ‘Communications” category (left) and experimenting with Free Basics with 3G turned off (right)

 

You’ll notice that while it says “Free Data” at the top of the screen, in order for Free Basics to work, mobile data (3G) had to be enabled on my phone. I had not purchased any credit for mobile data, so I knew I was not being charged by the network operator to use Free Basics. For a user conscious of spending money on mobile data, this would be a concern and a potential barrier – particularly as a first time user. All other apps would have to be closed as well in order to not incur a charge if they were open in the background while 3G is turned on. I experimented by later turning off 3G, but this caused the service to stop working.

 

The home page of the REFUNITE mobile site accessed through Free Basics, in English (left) and Arabic (right)

The home page of the REFUNITE mobile site accessed through Free Basics, in English (left) and Arabic (right)

 

Clicking through to REFUNITE from the menu page or the ‘communications’ listings takes you to the REFUNITE mobile home page, with the Free Basics bar at the top notifying the user of “Free Data.”

An issue that our tech team noticed before my trip was that the default country for Iraq is the next one below alphabetically – Ireland!  It’s a glitch we’re looking forward to correcting as it will streamline the registration process and be one less step for users. But right now the entire REFUNITE site is being rebuilt and we’re awaiting completion before this important change can be made.

I continued to experiment with Free Basics and the free mobile REFUNITE interface during my two weeks in Iraq, for instance simulating user activities like registering a profile and searching for people.

 

Editing my profile (left) and Arabic search results for “Mohamad Ali” (right)

Editing my profile (left) and Arabic search results for “Mohamad Ali” (right)

 

Throughout my field research in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, during which I talked to 100 Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis, no-one had heard of Free Basics, which is unsurprising given that at that time, it had only been live for a few months. Still, it’s incredible that tens of thousands of people have registered on REFUNITE in Iraq through Free Basics. We’re excited at the possibility of letting more people know they can access REFUNITE for free in this way.

 

An advert for Free Basics in a mall in Erbil (left) and flyers in a Korek store (right)

An advert for Free Basics in a mall in Erbil (left) and flyers in a Korek store (right)

 

Since our research trip in March, Free Basics is now available in Iraq through Asiacell and Zain,  the two other mobile network operators present in the country. This is incredibly exciting, as it means anyone with an internet enabled phone can access REFUNITE for free in Iraq through Free Basics, regardless of their mobile network. We’re now looking forward to making the changes highlighted above, and localising to improve the experience for REFUNITE users in Iraq.

Thanks for joining me on this user journey of REFUNITE on Free Basics in Iraq – the final installment of a series of blog posts reporting on my field research. The first blog looked at the different ways Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqis in camps access the internet, while the second shared the immensely personal stories of people missing loved ones. I hope the three have given some insights into REFUNITE’s user-centered approach and what was for me an extraordinary research trip to Iraq, made possible thanks to our partners Ericsson and Asiacell.

 

25 July 2016.