WhiteAfrican

Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Category: Web Stuff (page 4 of 45)

At the Best of Blogs as a Jury Member

I’m in Bonn, Germany as the English speaking judge for Deutsche Welle’s “Best of Blogs” awards (aka The BoBs). There are 11 judges, each representing different languages, and we each get to present one blog for each main category and each get one vote for the winner. Being the English judge is actually quite challenging, where many of the language judges need only focus on a single region, I have to contend with the fact that there are English blogs all over the world, so many that I can’t know all of them.

House Help and Human Rights

Blogs give voice – they lower the barriers, allowing stories to surface that would otherwise not be seen or heard.

The first vote today is for a Special Award on Human Rights. It’s a sobering start to the morning, going through blogs where people are doing courageous writing, shining a light on atrocities from Mexico to Germany to China. My nomination was for the blog Migrant Rights in the Middle East. It’s a blog put together by Mideast Youth, led by Senior TED Fellow Esra’a al Shafei out of Bahrain – a true grassroots effort.

One of the top contenders in this category is the Chinese blogger Teng Biao’s blog, a prominent human rights lawyer, writer and professor from Beijing. He was arrested this February dung the first day of China’s Jasmine Protests.

Migrant Rights won the award. I think this is largely due to the fact that what the team at Mideast Youth is doing hits on a subject that is so rarely spoken of. There are millions of house help and casual laborers that work in homes throughout the middle east, they come from all over the world and they lack a voice. Their stories get picked up from time-to-time in mainstream media, but there’s a need to follow this all the time (with resources and a database of activities), across the whole region and that’s where Migrant Rights fits in.

Expatriate workers are a crucial part of the fabric of Gulf society and economy, where they make up to 80% of the population in some states…

Whether we are a Qatari citizen who has grown up with a team of domestic staff at home, a Saudi woman who relies on her Pakistani driver to go to visit her girlfriends, or a western expat who benefits from a Filipino cleaning lady and works in a smart, modern office tower that was build from the back-breaking work of Nepalis, Indian, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, we all owe these individuals a debt of gratitude. Yet instead these individuals are undervalued, ignored, exploited and denied their most basic human rights. This is modern day slavery.

Congratulations to Esra’a and her team for providing a voice to the often voiceless.

Other Jury Winners

I was also in charge of the Best Blogs in English category, and I’m very happy to announce that the winner is Sandmonkey!

(Note: For those counting, 3 of the 6 jury winners are from North Africa and the English winner is also from the continent. All for good reasons of course, the activity in this space has been amazing since just January. Now it’s time for sub-Saharan African bloggers to up their game. Part of that means nominating the really amazing bloggers who are doing incredible work in your region. )

Thinking About Africa’s Open Data

I love Afrographique, a site I just heard about today that does data visualizations on African data. It’s done by Ivan Colic, a South African designer, as a “small contribution to assist the changing perception of Africa…”

What Ivan does is brilliantly delve into the data that’s freely open on the internet to show patterns and information in ways that we might not have noticed if looking at the data in its raw format. The problem that Ivan has, is there’s not always that much information about Africa to use – in fact, some of his maps show big blank spots for countries on the continent with no known data for them.

Getting African Data

In Kenya, Ushahidi is working on a project about public service delivery and the companies and government entities responsible for them. I’ve become painfully aware of just how inaccessible Kenya’s government data is.

The entities that hold the most public and infrastructure data are always government institutions. Getting information from them, no matter where you are in the world can be difficult. In Africa it can be very hard indeed. For good reason too, the fact is that there are decisions made for and by politicians for themselves or their constituencies that they don’t want you to see. Having that data open, and visualized, can be damning.

Tonight we had the Permanent Secretary for Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo, at the iHub for a session that he wanted to hold on using Kenya’s government data for local applications. Dr. Ndemo might be the hardest working and best intentioned person in government that I know. He truly wants to see tech move the country further, faster and with everyone taking part. Open data is an idea he’s been championing for quite some time.

However, we have a problem… A couple of them actually.

  • There is a lot of Kenya data, most of which resides in the Ministry of Planning, but that data isn’t accessible. We don’t know who to go to to get the data we need, and there is no mandate to support one group to centralize it.
  • Major data sets, like Kenya’s 2009 census data, are open (technically), since you can purchase the 4 books at $50/each and get it. That’s not really usable or accessible by many people though.
  • Kenya’s own OpenData.go.ke website has only ever seen a small handful of data sets, none of which are now available anymore
  • We don’t have a format for the data, it comes in anything from PDFs to Excel to CSV and books.
  • Groups like the Ministry of Education might publish some information on schools, but they won’t give anyone the location data. In fact, location data is the most hoarded information, rarely getting published in even a hardcopy format.

Google has partnered with the Kenya government to show some of the data. The question is, why is one multinational given access to all this information, while Kenyan citizens or organizations can’t get it directly? Is it just the same data as the World Bank has in their excellent open data API, or is there more data visualized here than that?

I hope that the Kenyan government will look closely at what the W3C has provided, and at what Sir Tim Berners-Lee advocated recently in regards to open data. I know that Dr. Ndemo is talking to many stakeholders on this, and my hope is that people step up and step forward to ensure that the data is open, accessible and usable – and soon.

Kenya is just one example, across Africa much of the corruption and misinformation can be attributed to governments who purposely withhold data in order to further their own aims, not those of their constituents. Instead of being scared about what people will “find out” about them, these governments would do well to look at all the benefits of government open data initiatives.

Quick Hits Around African Tech

Umbono: Google’s South African Incubator

In Cape Town, Google has initiated a tech incubator that gives 6 months of free space, $25-50k startup funding and access to an extensive mentoring network. The secret sauce here is in the angel & mentor network, who will be providing 50% of all investment money, while Google provides the rest. Johanna Kollar leads this initiative, and tells me they’re looking for at least 5 companies to get behind in this first go at it, though if there are enough exceptional applicants, they might do more. If you’re a registered business in South Africa, then you can participate. (more on the Google Africa blog)

The BoBs

Deutsche Welle runs the “Best of Blogs” awards each year, showcasing excellent blogs from all over the world. If you haven’t yet, take a few minutes and vote for your favorites. There are quite a few from North Africa.

21st Century Challenges: Digital Technology in Africa

I’ll be a guest to the Royal Geographic Society in London on May 18th for a discussion on technology in Africa with Nicholas Negroponte, Herman Chinery-Hesse and moderated by Bog Geldof. Our main topic:

“Can digital technology such as laptops and mobile phones offer the countries of Africa realistic economic and educational opportunities?”

If you’re in London, you can get a ticket to the event and join us.

Ushahidi moves

There are over 10,000 deployments of the Ushahidi platform around the world, and as you might imagine, a lot has been happening at Ushahidi, including:

  • The launch of Crowdmap Checkins at SXSW, a way to “roll your own Foursquare-type service”. It’s in it’s beta stage, but you can play with it now, as others have already using the Ushahidi Android or iOS apps.
  • Some amazing people created a Japan deployment after the earthquake and tsunami there, we helped by getting our SwiftRiver Sweeper app to do real-time translation using Google’s APIs.
  • Japan earthquake Ushahidi data, heatmapped

    Japan earthquake Ushahidi data, heatmapped

  • We’ve released some reports on past deployments and are part way through an evaluation by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
  • One of our volunteer deployers, Anahi Ayala Iacucci, spent a great deal of time and created a 90+ page Ushahidi manual for anyone looking to deploy Ushahidi. Having worked on over 20 deployments of her own, she’s one of the best placed people in the world to do this.

Samsung Seeks to Grow in Africa

Samsung is opening a new Electronics Engineering Academy for youth in Boksburg, South Africa. As Afrinnovator states, they have about 20% of the market, which will only increase as they’ve been smart enough to get behind Android in their devices (currently with 22 models). We’ve felt this presence at the iHub in Nairobi as well, where Samsung has a great interest in reaching out to Android programmers.

IxDA and Designers as Explorers

I get culture shock every once in a while, and it’s not the normal type where you’re coming to a new country and everything is completely different than your own country. This is more subtle, I’m at a conference with a lot of people who look and sound like me, but when you actually listen to their conversation you realize that they define themselves and the world in a way just slightly different than you do. That’s what happened to me over the last 3 days here in Boulder, Colorado at the IxDA 2011 – the big Interaction Design Association annual conference. I’m surrounded by 600+ designers, people who think deeply about why you and I do things, and ways to make us do it better, differently or for more money.

Sketch by @AlainaRachelle

Africa’s Digital Design Constraints

I was fortunate enough to meet Jon Kolko, one of the organizers, at PopTech a couple years ago, leading to this invite. My role was to talk as a practitioner, and I covered everything from AfriGadget to Maker Faire Africa and Ushahidi. I then delved into the constraints around design and building in the African tech space, by breaking down the three main areas that I see:

  • Bandwidth
  • Mobiles
  • Culture

Specifically, I covered how bandwidth has made it difficult for people to create new sites and services, but more importantly, how the uptake of those is limited by consumer use of the internet due to costs and speeds. This is changing though, as tracked and evidenced by the lowering data costs and increased bandwidth being piped into the continent each year.

I also covered the swiftly blurring lines between Mobile and web. How due to the fact that mobiles are the primary device for Africans and usually the first device that people have a meaningful interaction with the internet on, is creating a different type of user. How the entrepreneurs in Africa’s web space are thinking of it from a mobile context and how they build services to address their audience. Here I got into the argument of diffusion of internet penetration via the big international players like Facebook and Google through mobiles, which then open up infrastructure and cultural use making it more accessible to local startups.

Finally, I talked about culture. How this culture of mobile first plays out. Where the phone number trumps the email address on user signup, and where transactions happen due to that norm. It’s here that I also got to bring up one of my favorite people, Jepchumba, the creator of African Digital Art. She is creating a community, and a movement, to get African designers talking to each other and showcasing their work to the world – breaking down the stereotypes and building up new personalities across the continent.

Jepchumba helped me come up with some of the content behind my talk due to running her African web design survey last week (it’s still open). There’s a lot of information in that survey, much of which is still being gathered. As an example though, is this chart showing the percentage of African web designers who are self-taught as opposed to having a formal education. I wonder if this is normal globally?

Designers as Explorers

Getting back to my starting point. Sometimes this culture shock leads to great conversations, and it allows me to see the world that I live and work in a slightly different way.

Erin Moore is a designer and a storyteller, usually through video and blogging (see her newest project on Kickstarter). She introduced me to this terminology of “designers as explorers” – something that might be very apparent to the IxD field, but foreign to me. It’s a phrase that fits. Where we see designers as a new generation of what we thought of as National Geographic explorers a century ago. They’re best embodied by the Jan Chipchases of the world, who spend a great deal of time watching, listening and understanding how design interactions work, and then translating those discoveries to the rest of the world.

It fits because I have a hard time with a lot of the well-intentioned design community thinking that they can parachute into places like Africa, usually with a solution already in mind, and change the world. There is a place for designers in Africa, but the greatest value lies in recognizing the expertise at the local level, the inventiveness and ingenuity already there, and rubbing shoulders with them in a way that both gain value and maybe even build something new.

Ana Domb is another of the unique people that I met here at IxDA, she’s studied at MIT and has a good steeping in both digital technology, mixed with a focus on media and understanding fans (the people kind). It was this background that took her to Brazil (she’s Chilean) to study Technobregas – a crazy hodgepodge of fans, artists, sponsors and DJs all banding together to create their own music reality, outside of the traditional music industry’s grasp. It takes someone with a distinct design focus and understanding of how social interactions happen to be able to translate that to someone like me (paper here).

We need to see more of this. Where American designers do parachute in, but not as problem solvers, instead as explorers. Where their expertise rubs off on those they meet, and those they meet rub off on them. Both benefit. Equally, we need to see more African designers going abroad and using their expertise in shaping the way the Western world uses technology and understands community. Design interactions go both ways.

Local Web Cache Lessons: Uganda

The chart you’re looking at is amazing. Orange Uganda has seen local traffic jump from 3Mbs to over 30Mbs in just two weeks due to partnering and implementing Google’s Global Cache. One wonders how much business they’re starting to chip away at from their competition.

In layman’s terms this means that once anyone in Uganda using Orange has visited a website (especially Google’s data heavy ones like YouTube, Google Maps or even Search results), that the content is cached locally. Once that is done, the next person to visit that same site gets it served to them locally, which is much faster than having their traffic make the round trip from Uganda to Europe.

There are 8 peering ISPs in Uganda, and only one of them is using Google Global Cache. Yet, below we see that Orange Uganda has made the whole country’s usage start to look like a hockey stick.

This begs the question, “why aren’t the other 7 peers using Google’s Global Cache?”

It also makes you wonder why more ISPs haven’t started using this in other countries. After all, it gives your users a distinct advantage, they get a much better user experience than they did before.

From all that I’ve heard, it sounds like each ISP is more interested in keeping their competition away from the Google Global Cache than they are about their customer’s experience. This means that they refuse to sign a deal with Google unless they’re the only ones who can use it, blocking out their competitors.

Take a moment to ponder this idiocy with me. Right now we’re all on equally crappy load times for data-heavy content, all of the ISPs suck at relatively the same level. If they all moved to Google’s Global Cache, they would still all be at relatively the same level, but it wouldn’t suck. Sure, no advantage gained over the competition, but a lot less pain to their users.

Here’s the kicker… with faster data speeds and load times, people use more data. Their profits would increase.

This is a perfect example where a rising tide would float all boats, but all the captains have decided they like to wallow in the mud instead.

[Note: Thanks to Tim McGinnis for the tip]

Tackling Africa’s Classified Listings Space

Just over a year ago I was frustrated. We had just moved back to Kenya and I was trying to outfit our house with a few necessities. Just finding sellers of the items we were looking for was a pain, as there were no options for classifieds services online that had much to offer.

Being a builder and a problem solver I wanted to better understand what was going on here. Why, in 2010 did I have to go to one of 7 large shopping centers across town, in Nairobi’s terrible traffic, in order to look at a notice board to find products? With this in mind, I sat down and penned a strategy paper that I thought could address the problem.

(Below is the overview, the full document is to long to post)

The Overview

No organization or entity in Kenya has come up with a good classifieds network. There is little, to no, traction in the online space and the offline arena is a fractured market where each group protects their fiefdom and doesn’t share their ad content. This is seen in the popularity and reach of the classifieds at major shopping centers like Sarit Centre, Yaya and Village Market, but also in the newspapers and mailing lists.

There is also no good option for digital classifieds, even though there have been multiple attempts, including Nation Media Group’s N-Soko, Craigslist Kenya and eBay’s Kijiji as well as many small operations by Kenyan developers.

This fractured landscape, as well as a missing digital nexus point for classifieds in Kenya, creates a large and open opportunity. Real money is ready to be made, as there are many frustrated buyers and sellers who need an outlet.

In order to succeed at making real money with classifieds listings in Kenya, one needs to have a strategy for both the analog and the digital sides. It’s not enough to make a great classifieds website – as N-Soko and Craigslist are showing us. Neither is it good enough to have just offline newspaper ads or shopping center message boards.

The document went on for another 5 pages outlining a solution that I thought married up what was needed: a way to mix Kenya’s analog community habits and the efficiencies of a digital solution.

Our Solution

A couple months later I was discussing this with David Kobia, my colleague at Ushahidi, talking about how there are wide open opportunities like this in Kenya where there is a clear void that no one is filling. It’s not hard, it just takes focus on a simple platform that’s both web and mobile enabled, along with a way to bring in the analog side.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and David built a little site for this purpose over the weekend, called Pigia.me. A place for us to experiment with, and we did. We spent some time gathering classifieds from the shopping centers and the newspaper. We did some Facebook ads. It worked, we quickly got up to over 3,500 listings and traffic was increasing. Total investment 3 days coding and $300 in ads.

But we didn’t have the time. Ushahidi keeps us way to busy, as does the iHub.

Enter Dealfish

About 3 months ago Dealfish, the big classifieds site owned by MIH in South Africa, launched in Kenya. Simultaneously it launched in Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana (English). And in Francophone Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and the DRC. They scooped up well-known tech entrepreneur and blogger Moses Kemibaro from Dotsavvy to run East Africa’s operations, while Neil Schwartzman overseas all Sub-Saharan Africa for Dealfish and Stefan Magdalinski presides over Dealfish as well as Mocality and Kalahari for all but South Africa.

They’re now at approximately 12,000 listings (in Kenya), serving the major urban areas and have about 6000 “answers” per month (which is what they call it when a buyer tries to contact a seller). The top areas are auto, home and jobs – like most classified sites.

Until critical mass is reached, classifieds are something that you have to put a lot of energy towards on a constant and consistent basis. Thus Dealfish has chosen Kenya and Nigeria as their first focus-countries, where they have dedicated personnel.

MIH has deep pockets, and they’ve decided that there is a future in investing in digital arena in the Africa outside of South Africa. They came on strong with online ads by Google, Facebook, Inmobi, Admob and Buzzcity. Inmobi has given them the best return, with Google ads in second place. However, it’s the Dealfish team notes that the Inmobi traffic doesn’t have nearly the same intent to buy or sell as the Google traffic – it’s blind coming in.

Offline Dealfish used radio, in-store advertising, posters in malls and in club bathroom stalls. The form of advertising dictates the type of user, whether they use mobile phones or PC web. In the beginning mobile users were their predominant type, but now it’s split 50/50 between mobile and PC web users.

Dealfish is doing well, and will continue to do so, especially as they have enough financial backing to continue seeding the market. Their competition comes in the form of verticals that are specifically created for a niche market. In this case, autos with Cheki, jobs with Brighter Monday and homes with Property Kenya. And that’s just in Kenya, they’ll fight that same battle in the other markets as well.

Tackling Africa

The only other classifieds system that has made a dent in Africa is Kerawa, operated out of Cameroon. They have thousands of listings in quite a few countries. They’ve done this over the last 3 years, bootstrapped and growing organically.

However, there’s a danger in trying to go after everyone and everything. In the broad classified space there is only a single winner, no prizes for second place, except in niche areas. Whoever reaches critical mass first wins, and the rest can go home. It’s better to win in a couple countries than to lose in all.

Both Dealfish and Kerawa have to fight the very real issue of spam listings. Just letting anything to so as to get bigger numbers only decreases the value to the user. How customer service and clarity of use and value play out to the listing companies and people is where a lot of time and resources can be spent.

[Update: Google Trader launched in Ghana and Uganda to mixed success. As long as there was a lot of marketing put into the effort, they had a lot of listings, as soon as they stopped there was a big drop-off. It’s yet to be determined if Google Trader is a failure or success, or if Google is still putting any more effort into it.]

Urban then Rural

Finally, you have to start in the urban areas due to users, devices and general “mass”. However, if you think that’s enough, then you haven’t learned the lessons taught by the mobile operators. That is, urban is your anchor, but rural is your long tail, your reach.

Any attempt to get enough critical mass to make serious money off of traffic or transactions has to reach beyond the cities. The towns and rural areas are untapped and ripe for the approach. Phase 2 of this approach should look a lot like what I wrote about back in 2009, on how village billboards should be leveraged alongside the mobile phone shops in smaller communities.

Pay Attention to the Mobile Web

In 2008 we saw the scales begin to tip with imports of data enabled phones being larger than that of non-data enabled phones.
In 2009 we saw the undersea cables hit East and Southern Africa in a big way.
In 2010 we saw the mobile operators get serious about data availability and cost packaging for everyday Africans.

2011 is upon us, and with it brings a new type of data-enabled mobile user in Africa. It also brings the mobile web to center stage.

Mobile web content has been defined as any internet-connected or browser-based access to the internet and as digital content connected to a database that passes through a handheld device connected to a wireless network.

Simply put, the mobile web is the same data that the web layer brings to you on a computer, just now on your phone.

The mobile phone is the most ubiquitous instrument there is in the market. Usage is no longer limited to sending and receiving calls and texts, especially with the increase of data enabled phones, increased bandwidth availability and decreasing data costs. The convenience in terms of use-anywhere-anytime has made access to mobile web content easier, accelerated by dropping rates of mobile handsets and data.

What does it look like?

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Consumer content such as movie times and restaurant reviews, such as Flix and EatOut.
  • Consumer focused transaction sites and classifieds like Dealfish and Pigia.me.
  • Content, such as news, blogs and aggregators like Afrigator.
  • Business information for consumers and businesses, such as Mocality.
  • Mobile-specific communities, such as Motribe, Facebook and Twitter.
  • The ability to pay via mobile payment methods or credit cards, brought to you by mobile payment aggregators like PesaPal.
  • Advertising done by the likes of InMobi and AdMob.

You can see that it doesn’t look all that different from it’s purely web-based counterparts. It’s the same data, just more accessible on your phone.

There are strong plays to be made in all of these fields, as there are few leaders in any country, much yet regionally… yet. The reason for that is we’re just on the front end of this sea change, so even the leaders only have a very small slice of the pie.

While there will always be a place for client-focused mobile applications (Android, iPhone, Ovi, etc.), there is just too much friction there to scale. Friction for the developers who build the applications, and friction for the users who need the “right” phone to access the apps.

For more brain food on this topic, I suggest reading Fred Wilson’s post, Counternotions and alternate thoughts from Diogenex.

Kenya’s Groupon Clones: Rupu and Zetu

Groupon has been a massive success in the US, it’s a deal-of-the-day site, with projected revenue of $500m in just it’s second year. It uses the framework of “collective buying”, which means that if enough people sign up for the deal, then it’s on. If not enough people sign up, then it’s off. Revenue is shared per deal, Groupon only wins if the company doing the deal wins. Of course, this has caught the attention of savvy business people in Africa.

Rupu

Rupu is launching today. The word comes from the term “marupurupu“, which is a freebie, something small handed out in the employer-to-employee relationship (could be considered a bonus). Munyutu Waigi is the business man behind the operation, and it was interesting to note that it was built out by Charles Kithika and Joshua Musau – all three members of the iHub.

Rupu uses Jambopay, which handles local mobile payment options Mpesa and Zap, as well as Visa.

Here’s their video on how it works:

Zetu

Zetu launched about a month ago and they’ve had a few more deals under their belt – everything from manicures to movies. “Zetu” means “our” in Swahili, and it’s playing to the collective action part of the deal.

“Zetu negotiates huge discounts on popular local goods, services and cultural events. Then we offer the deals to thousands of subscribers in a free daily email. The deals are activated only when a minimum number of people agree to buy. So our subscribers get a great deal and the business gets a ton of new customers.”

Zetu uses iPay, which allows you to pay via your mobile with Mpesa, Zap and Yu-Cash.

Thoughts

I’m not sure if Kenya is a big enough market for multiple services like this. I believe it will come down to which of them can get past the middle and upper class customers and get to the average-income customer. The deals are definitely within the right price range, but I’m wondering if the distribution medium works. Should there be better mobile integration?

Each of the sites are also quite new, which means that there are a few rough edges that need to be worked out over the coming months. Most of the issues stem around user interaction, and making it a very easy and friendly transaction.

Collective discount/buying sites take a lot of business-side deal making, as well as the ability to garner a lot of people to follow and push the deals that they like to their friends. Time will tell which of these companies has the business chops to keep the site going and make deals happen that bring the masses of consumers needed to make it successful.

Finally, while there’s nothing wrong with copying a successful business model, the Rupu site is a little too much of direct knock off of Groupon – the colors, logo layout and site look way to close. They took the “clone” part a little to seriously… At least Zetu has a different feel to it and gets points for originality.

Motribe: The Mobile Web Community Builder

The Mobile Web is the future of mobile apps, and it’s not surprising to see Vincent Maher and Nic Haralambous, from South Africa, on the front end of it. Motribe is a simple community building platform for the mobile web. You can easily get a site up and going in an hour that allows chat, photo sharing, private messaging and mobile blogs.

That bit about the mobile web is important, since it means you can browse to it on most phones, and you don’t need a special app for it built on all the smartphone platforms, like iPhone, Android, Ovi, WinMo and Bada – as in, there’s one less barrier to entry.

I asked Vincent why he chose mobile web, his response:

“Mobile is the killer internet platform for Africa, but also the rest of the world. We have found that our younger users prefer using an ipod touch to surf the web than a PC. Motribe works on 4000 devices (or more) and the Motribe plan is to change the way people use social networks in emerging markets.”

Initial funding was raised 4DI Capital, and they’ve got a clear business strategy, which is to sell their product. Pricing ranges from $10 to $50, and each level gives you a greater ability to customize and “own” the mobile social network that you’ve built. There is also an enterprise level available for bigger brands and companies. Motribe also has a free plan with core features and a 100-user limit for you to get started quickly.

Its built on Amazon EC2, S3, RDS and Cloudfront using PHP, Codeigniter, Google Charts, JQuery and Cassandra. Vincent stated that, “Cassandra is the most interesting of the components because its going to be the key to scaling to millions of users.”

Giving it a Test Run

I went ahead and signed up to give Motribe a whirl. My test site is AfriGadget.Motribe.mobi, where I’ll put up some stuff from AfriGadget and see if a community grows around it. Just getting going, I can see that a lot of attention has been put behind this platform (as would be expected with veterans like Vincent and Nic).

Some notes:

  • Signup: done easily, nice little touch to provide a QR code directing to a URL for login.
  • Setting up a community: simple, see image below.
  • Access code: for when you want only certain people to join
  • Test mode: for making sure your community is setup right before it goes live
  • Themes: many simplified stock themes available out of the box.
  • QR code generator: there’s a neat QR code generated for the URL of your new site. (Would be nice to have this as an embed code for websites)

There are a couple example sites already going – emofwendz.com is the one they ran for the pilot, and it has some fantastic engagement stats, like an average of over 100 pages viewed per visit (the norm for web sites is about 5) and average visit lengths of around 60 minutes. Today, Vincent said, an Afrikaans-language site was created for Christians http://ekerk.motribe.mobi, its a good example of exactly what they people to do with the platform.

Some Thoughts

If there’s any platform that’s come out of Africa in the last year that fills a global need, it’s Motribe. I won’t be surprised to see this go big at all.

There are always teething pains, experimentation and adjustments when a new platform goes live. I found a few issues, like when I went to upload my logos they threw a bug (I was a pixel off on the size, thus the issue). Not unexpected in a brand new platform, and I’m sure it’ll be fixed shortly.

I wasn’t able to test out the “Custom URL” and “Advertising Manager” features, though I would like to see how each is implemented. It might be worth having a section on the website to preview at least the Advertising Manager in more detail to see if it’s worth upgrading to.

There isn’t any SMS functionality yet, and I’m not sure there needs to be either. As Vincent said, “we don’t have a need for SMS right now but we may well integrate SMS at a later stage depending on whether we can find some good uses for it.”

Worth reading: other posts by TechCentral and the Daily Maverick.

Notes from gKenya

This is the third day of gKenya, where there are 30+ Google employees running a big Google-focused conference in Nairobi. They’ve just done one in Ghana and Uganda as well. The first day was for university students, the second for programmers and today is for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Nelson Mattos, VP of Africa, Europe and the Middle East gave a keynote, here are some notes from that.

Challenges

High penetration of mobile devices, and growth in mobile, yet not many fixed lines and very little high-speed connectivity. This provides a major challenge to Google, whose internet paradigm is based on a different type of user. Low speed and unreliable connectivity.

The diversity of Africa is also a challenge, especially languages. Example, is that there are 51 African languages with more than 2 million speakers.

Devices and affordability. Cash flow constraints impede the ability to pay the entire device price at once. – plus limited access to financing options as the whole of Africa only has 4% of the population that is banked.

Africa is a fragmented market with 54 countries and 1 billion people compared to other emerging markets like India (1.1b) and China (1.3b). This means lower volumes of things that can be sold and lower return for investors.

Broadband in Africa is 10x more expensive than in Europe. The price is just too high outside of cybercafes and certain limited mobile plans.

14% of the world’s population, 2% of the internet
Globally, 94 domains per 10k people, Africa is 1/10,000.

Opportunities

Africa is embracing mobile, so Google is trying to speed up the process of getting more and more people online using mobile. They’re also working on many different levels to create a more holistic ecosystem for the internet in Africa, including policy, education and developer outreach.

Access – reducing the barrier for potential users
This mainly means reducing the cost to access, data and services. They do this with with devices (like this week’s release of the Android IDEOS phone from Huawei). They also engage with major telcos and ISPs to reduce the price of entry for data connections.

Google works a lot with the African developer communities as well, they’re particularly heavy in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa, but are growing to more countries. One of their goals with this is to educate on how to better create efficient and effective websites, and it’s also to help grow a higher calibre of developer.

They have a university access program, where Google helps bring universities into the internet era in Africa (though I’m not sure what that means to be honest, outside of giving them Google Apps for free.)

Finally, they work to Improve the end-user experience, including latency for both Google products and internet services in general (ie, Google Global Cache). Note: Google Global Cache only works in certain countries, Kenya is not one of them due to political bickering amongst certain ISPs, AccessKenya amongst them

Relevance – making the internet relevant and useful to local people
Google is working to create and enable more African content online (ex: Swahili Wikipedia challenge and Google books partnerships). They’re helping to develop applications that are locally meaningful and enabling African devs to do the same by launching Google products in more languages.

Sustainability – helping to build an internet ecosystem in Africa that has long term sustainability
Developer outreach is a major component, where they are strengthening the developer community (through places like the iHub), working with universities by raising the level of curriculum and awareness about Google, and are also working and partnering with startups, publishers and NGOs.

Awareness and education (Doodle for Google in Kenya and Ghana, “Best place to watch the match” in Kenya during the World Cup, etc.

Google Tools

Taking advantage of Google apps (email, docs, calendar):
50k students using Google apps for free at universities
Small, medium and large sized organizations are using Google Apps as well, examples given were: Kenya Airways, Homeboyz Radio, USIU

Products developed for Africans – recent launches:

  • YouTube (South Africa)
  • Streetview (South Africa)
  • Google maps in 30 African countries: including driving directions in Kenya, Ghana and SA
  • Google News in many African countries
  • Google Places (Kenya)
  • Google Trader (Uganda)
  • iGoogle in 36 Sub-Saharan African countries
  • SMS chat in Gmail (Ghana, Senegal and Zambia)
  • Tools in local languages (ex: Gmail in Swahili)
  • Android Marketplace launched in Kenya and South Africa on Monday, but it’s crippled by lack of Google Checkout use in these same countries.

(There were actually quite a few more “Africanized” tools and features that he listed, but I couldn’t copy them all down in time. I’ll try to get the full list later.)

Ability for organizations to start local and expand globally:

  • Google Maps: 300 cities mapped, and represents a chance for local businesses to have a global presence by getting into the business listings
  • Google Site Creator: get indexed faster, uses the example of AkiliDada
  • Monetization opportunity through AdSense and Adwords: uses an example of “BabyM“, a business out of Nigeria, who used $400 on Adwords and sold their complete inventory in 4 weeks.
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