Facebook, it appears, was not about to let Google get this week's award for shadowy new projects. On Tuesday night, a number of users--including Mashable blogger Ben Parr--received notifications that they were beta testers for something called "Facebook Lite."
The notifications, as well as the site hosted on the subdomain lite.facebook.com, disappeared within minutes. It seems to have been rolled out prematurely by mistake.
"Last night, the test was temporarily exposed to a larger set of users by mistake," an e-mailed statement from Facebook representative Brandee Barker read. "We have not opened up access to lite.facebook.com to all users at this time. People who are not part of the test and are trying to access 'Lite' will be directed to Facebook.com as usual.
From what it looks like, Facebook Lite is a simpler version of the site and pares down profiles to basic information and a stream of status updates. The easy conclusion is that this would make Facebook's service look a whole lot like Twitter. And given the fact that Facebook had attempted to acquire Twitter, got snubbed, and then acquired the significantly smaller real-time streaming site FriendFeed this week, a Twitter-like service would be rife with implications.
Here's Facebook's official explanation: "We are currently testing a simplified alternative to Facebook.com that loads a specific set of features quickly and efficiently. Similar to the Facebook experience you get on your mobile phones, Facebook 'Lite' is a fast-loading, simplified version of Facebook that enables people to make comments, accept friend requests, write on people's walls, and look at photos and status updates."
Blogger Jason Baptiste managed to get screenshots.
The obvious guess is that this is yet another attempt on Facebook's part to stay abreast of Twitter in the race to own the "real-time streaming Web." There are, potentially, other reasons for launching a simplified site:
For use on slower connections.
As a more "portable" profile that could potentially tie into Facebook's aim of being all over the Web rather than a destination site.
Facebook hinted that the "developing markets" answer could be an accurate one. "We are currently testing Facebook Lite in countries where we are seeing lots of new users coming to Facebook for the first time and are looking to start off with a more simple experience," the statement from Facebook explained.
Got any guesses, speculation, or conspiracy theories? Comments are welcome.
This post was updated at 7:46 a.m. PT.