How Safaricom Steals Your Internet Bundle

99% of Kenya’s 6.5m internet users access it via mobile, of which Safaricom owns 77% marketshare.

In Kenya, when you buy a 1.5Gb internet bundle from Safaricom you pay 1000ksh (~$12). You’ve paid for the data, and there is no additional cost to Safaricom if you were to use that data today or a year from now. The whole concept of data bundle expiry is ridiculous, as noted by Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore when he visited the iHub:

“When you go into a petrol station and fill up your car, does the owner of the petrol station tell you to bring it back on Wednesday to take back what’s left in the vehicle? Of course not. So I ask, why the hell are we doing that?”

Bob goes on to say that he isn’t going to be an apologist for this practice, that there is a problem with leaving the data there ad infinitum. That 60 days is probably too short and that Safaricom does need to change how they handle this.

  • Until recently they just held your data hostage. If your data expired, you could recharge with just a few shillings of data, this would re-trigger your “old” data that was past the expiration, and have that available to you again.
  • Today, it is “data gone, money stolen” after expiration. They cut you off if you haven’t used all of your internet bundle in the nominal 7-90 days, no matter how much is remaining.

I brought this up with Bob Collymore, and his chief executives when they visited the iHub earlier this year (see video), at which point he admitted that it was indeed a dubious practice that would be changed to something much more open to users. You’ll see what Bob says at the 1:17 mark in the video below.

Here Bob is on video speaking to this point (I’ve saved the link to go to the right point in the video):

The other day I caught a Tweet from Sunny Bindra about some surprising changes:

Safaricom is actually very responsive on Twitter, probably the best big company on social media in the Kenya. They followed up with Sunny with this:

So, Safaricom didn’t broadcast this significant change in the way data bundles are handled broadly. Apparently, “publicized on our website” means quietly posting a PDF somewhere in the morass that is their website to notify the data using public of the changes.

If you follow the links to the PDF, you’ll find the following:

What is the Validity period?
This is the time frame that you have to use the bundles, when this period elapses it means that any remaining bundles will have expired and will not be available for use.

(Note: there is conflicting information on how long bundles will last, you can only find out by topping up a bundle. I did this for 1.5Gb and found that it’ll last 80 days, not the 30 that they say in the PDF. I don’t know if it’s more/less time for other bundle amounts.)

It’s in Safaricom’s best interest for you to keep buying more data, over and over, even if you haven’t used it. It costs them nothing to let you use it over a longer period of time, or to keep recharging it.

In Conclusion

I’m disappointed with Safaricom, especially after Bob Collymore came to the iHub and said he was going to fix this, not break it further.

This is an outright fleecing that the Safaricom team should be questioned on. In a country where they are the monopoly player on the primary source for people to access the internet, this makes them appear like a bad actor.

Basically, we’ve gone from a bad system that was promised to be made better, but which had a corrective option, to a worse system that has no option.

Other Safaricom Data Miscellany

While I’m at it, let’s go ahead and talk about a few other ways that the data service that Safaricom raises the bar for bonehead usability: buying data bundles themselves.

Case 1:
You used to be able to send airtime to a SIM card on your Safaricom modem. Then, using the inbuilt Safaricom Broadband app, send an SMS to 450 with the amount of the bundle that you wanted to buy, now 450 only seems to work for checking your balance.

With the new service updated in the aforementioned PDF you can now only use the USSD code to update it.

Solution now?
Take the SIM card out of your modem, load it in your phone and do the USSD code. Once confirmation is received, switch that SIM card back to the modem.

Yes, that’s correct. Instead of being using the software that comes native with your modem, you now have to use a phone to update your bundles. Why would you change your system to not work with everything that people use? I’m quite curious actually. I can’t understand this decision from a either the business or the product side at all.

Case 2:
Safaricom wanted to make it easier for people with modems, iPads, Android tablets and smartphones to be able to update their bundle (good idea). They created http://portal.safaricom.com/bundles for this purpose. Let’s say you’re out of data, you have no credit on your phone. How do you get to this page?

Solution?
There are none. You’re stuck because this page isn’t zero-rated. This is mind-boggling in it’s oversight. I have no data, therefore I cannot go to your page to load more data. Seriously… who is the genius that thought this up? Or, probably more accurately, what form of bureaucracy is in place that allows this mediocrity to persist?

Further, if you’re Safaricom who controls 77% of the consumer internet access in Kenya, why wouldn’t you zero-rate your whole Safaricom.com domain and make it free for anyone to surf, even if they don’t have a single shilling on their phone?

[As a resource, here is the latest quarterly Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) PDF report on the tech scene in Kenya.]

Our Voices Revolutionize the World

[The following is from my Institute of Medicine Talk on communications technologies for violence prevention in Washington DC today. A good background paper to get started on the context of tech in violence prevention is found in this PDF. ]

Something has changed over the last decade.

New technology is lowering barriers. For everyone, and everything. It is disruptive just by existing and by it’s penetration into every corner of the world. We’re talking mobile phones, social media, open data, inexpensive mapping and of course the internet itself.

It can be used just as easily for good as for bad, like any other tool and medium before it. However, the biggest difference in our new technology space, is that what before had at least some gatekeepers, now has few or none.

Inefficiencies in older industries or organizations are areas ripe to be disintermediated in our day of new tools and democratizing of information. Think big media, government, the humanitarian field and even the medical and healthcare industries. Many of these are centralized, top-down information systems which are being forced (or will be forced) to change, or become obsolete and die out in their current form. Not because what they represent is bad, but because how they do it is no longer viable.

Legacy systems and processes were built for a use case that is often decades, if not centuries, old. Internet and mobile phone technology bring new efficiencies and lower barriers. At the very least we can expect new technology to augment what’s there, if it doesn’t displace it entirely.

We’ve see this rippling through the media world for the past few years, large magazines and newspapers are going out of print, major TV networks are struggling. New technology is changing the news paradigm.

We see it in government, from fund raising to how wars are fought, and especially to how a faster moving populace interacts with a slower, archaic and sometimes rotten system that rules them. New technology makes a nimble adversary out of the people that the government is sworn to serve.

We see this in the humanitarian space, where large, slow and ungainly organizations can’t seem to coordinate the resources to meet their mandate, yet raise enough money to keep themselves in business. New technology allows the affected people to self-organize and solve their own problems, and leads us to question why some organizations exist at all.

Let me give you a finite example of this, from my own organization, Ushahidi.

Ushahidi was born out of the post-election violence in 2008. In that first week, a number of us came together as an ad hoc group of volunteers and in 3 days created a website that allowed anyone in the country to send in text messages, emails or web reports on problems happening in their area and we mapped them and put them on a timeline. It was simple, rudimentary even, but it worked.

It worked because people were looking for an outlet, they wanted to let people know what was happening to them.

What we’ve seen since that time is that Ushahidi has proliferated, not because of the technology, but because of the use cases that it makes possible. It is a free and open source platform for gathering and visualizing information and it has been used for everything from disaster response to election monitoring, citizen journalism and community engagement.

There are now over 20,000 deployments of the Ushahidi platform operating in 132 countries. Our goals for Ushahidi are simple; to disrupt the way information flows in the world by providing the best tools for democratizing information with the least barriers to entry.

In the beginning this meant take what took us 3 days to build and make it available to others so they didn’t have to start from scratch. Something that would take them only 3 hours to deploy. Last year we dropped that to 3 minutes with the launch of Crowdmap, our cloud-based version of Ushahidi.

We’ve also created many mobile tools, from an Android-based SMS gateway to customizable iPhone and Android apps.

3 lessons we learned early:

  • We didn’t have the credentials. None of us were humanitarians, we just cared about our home and wanted to do something.
  • We had no funding. It wasn’t until 4 months later that we formed Ushahidi as an organization, and 4 months after that when we received funding. That didn’t stop us from doing something.
  • We had no time. If we had thought long and hard before we built our system, it probably would have been too complicated and wouldn’t have worked. We also might have thought of a more sayable name…

All of the lessons that we’ve learned through our journey are baked into our organizations culture. We question assumptions and we treasure disruption. We’re willing to take risks that leave us open to failure, in our effort to change the way information flows in the world.

There’s a term that I came across last year called “White Space“, and it’s best definition is:

“…where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent, and strategy is unclear…”

The most innovative ideas come from this white space; internally within organizations, in the startup space and in society in general. At the end of the day, much of the white space definition looks a lot like where I live and work in Africa. And I think it’s why its sometimes easier to come up with innovative solutions there, and why we’re going to see an increasing number of solutions to the problems in the West coming from places that look a lot like Africa.

The best disruptive ideas come from the edge. So, let’s look at the edge, cases from around the globe, for some examples of how technology is being used to make an impact on violence prevention.

  • HarassMap (Ushahidi + FrontlineSMS) – Egypt
  • BullyMapper (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Australia
  • Human Rights (Ushahidi) – Saudi Arabia by Amnesty Int’l
  • YoungAfrica Live (Internet via mobile) – South Africa
  • YETAM (FrontlineSMS + Ushahidi) – Benin by Plan
  • Apartheid Watch (Ushahidi) – Israel and Palestine
  • Hollaback (Phone cameras and a website) – US, India, Mexico and Argentina
  • PeaceTXT (SMS and trained people) – US
  • Maps4Aid (Ushahidi) – India
  • Take Back the Tech (Ushahidi) – Global

“Across the globe—and without any organizing or mobilization by NGOs or watchdogs—people confronted with threats to their rights are communicating out those experiences, in effect reasserting agency over their own rights protection.” – Amnesty International

Those are all exciting examples, showing what can be done with new technology. Suddenly there are no barriers to entry, anyone can take part, and it doesn’t require that someone have authority to begin. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you want to do and galvanizing a community to take part.

Is technology a panacea? Not at all.

As my friend Clay Shirky says, “The technology only becomes interesting when it is no longer interesting to technologists.”

We use a graphic in Ushahidi to remind users of our tools that the technology is only a small part of any solution. We say that 90% of the work is non-tech related, and can take the form of organizing, outreach, branding, translation, etc.

It’s a reminder to us as well, that we need to focus on creating tools that augment human activity and get out of the way as much as possible. That, in the end, is what makes the earlier examples so interesting; they worked because they used the simple tools available in people’s pockets to interact and bring attention to a much larger population, audience or intermediary.

Just this week a new site was launched, like it’s predecessor in Egypt it’s purpose is to draw attention to the harassment that women get, this time in Ramallah, Palestine. Residents of Ramallah, as well as staff from Palestinian women’s organizations and civil society came together and did something, they built Streetwatch. It was self-organized, it emerged from local needs and tools were found that could suit them.

“They have an opportunity to help themselves and other honest citizens of Ramallah to isolate the problem areas and say no to sexual harassment.”

This is the new story of our time, that:

“Our voices revolutionize the world.” – David Kobia, Ushahidi

Those 5 words. That simple statement.

The revolution is here, you’ve watched it shake industries, rock countries and effect your own community – and what you’re seeing is only the beginning of the massive changes sweeping across the world.

It’s not complicated. It’s the effect of technology democratizing information and changing the way it flows in the world.

It’s simple solutions, by unqualified but driven people, like the communities in Ramallah, Egypt, India and even here in the US, that provide a foundation for the changes that we’re seeing. It’s ordinary people, using simple technology to organize themselves and take care of their own problems.

Your task is to look closely, to understand the basics and then figure out how to use these new tools at your disposal to make a difference. In your case, to specifically prevent violence and help those who have been hurt.

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.

Phone and Internet Mesh for African Villages

In the words of Steve Song, Village Telco is “an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit”. He’s just put out a new video making it very clear just how useful this system is.

The team over at Blinktower has done an exceptional job of creating a short, concise and eminently understandable video of what Village Telco is.

The Village

Often, we get caught up in our high tech wizardry and get overly excited about the newest Android app or the best new web app built in African Megalopolis #5. And by “we”, I mean “I”, since I too am a tech guy who is endlessly intrigued by the latest, newest and shiniest.

What we forget is the village. “Up country”. What happens when we get comments like this last week from the new CEO of Safaricom, Bob Collymore, threatening to do away with their rural network:

We’re OK with losing market share (faced with unrealistically low rates) and focusing on Nairobi and high-income communities. The people in remote districts are receiving calls (more than making them). If rates decline, why should I continue to do that?”

Some rural communities have never had connectivity of any kind, voice or data. Others have it now, but could lose it if their revenues don’t prove to be high enough for big operators. Who is going to fill that niche?

I think the answer lies in technology like Village Telco. It’s a business, not an aid program. Where an entrepreneur can get a link to the network started (or not), and then mesh out from there to the whole community. People pay for access, and profits can be made.

For the last few years, a dedicated team of enthusiasts have been building the initial hardware and software. Both of which are open source. It’s a low-cost way to get into the telco business. Here’s to hoping that more entrepreneurs take a serious look at rural connectivity.

Kenya’s Mobile & Internet, by the Numbers (Q4 2010)

If you’ve been wondering what the numbers look like for Kenya’s mobile and ISP space, look no further than the latest CCK Report (Communications Commission of Kenya). It’s one of the best documents that I’ve seen, compiling information that you just can’t seem to find anywhere else.

Highlights of Q4 2010:

  • There are 22 million mobile subscribers in Kenya
  • 9.5% mobile subscriptions growth, which is increasing over the previous quarters
  • 6.63 billion minutes of local calls were made on the mobile networks
  • 740 million text messages were sent
  • Prepaid accounts for 99% of the total mobile subscriptions
  • The number of internet users was estimated at 8.69 million
  • The number of internet/data subscriptions is 3.2 million
  • Broadband subscriptions increased from 18,626 subscribers in the previous quarter to 84,726

Price Wars

Everyone recognizes the impact on SMS and voice, due to the price wars brought on by Airtel last year. The average, people are paying 2.65 Ksh per minute for voice representing 33.4%
reduction on pre-paid tariffs. It comes as no surprise that there was a 68.4% increase in traffic during this period, nearly triple the norm.

There’s nothing like a chart to bring this point home:

Interestingly, a decline in total number of text messages sent (4% less) was recorded. It’s an indicator that given the choice of lower cost voice, people would rather use that, and they do.

Safaricom lost 4.8% market share, from 80.1% to 75.9% (still massive). Surprisingly, it wasn’t Airtel who benefitied, as Orange made up for most of that with a 4.4% increase of their own. Airtel did lead the market by recording 1,143,353 new subscriptions, about 3x their closest competitor.

Internet

A whopping 99% of the internet traffic in Kenya is done via mobile operators, meaning 3G, Edge or GPRS. It’s to Safaricom’s credit that they moved on this early, not dithering around on data as their competition did, effectively taking the whole market.

My theory is that there are only two major players in the ISP space in Kenya. The first is Safaricom, supported by this report, who will own most of the country due to having an island strategy (mobile towers). This allows them to own all the rural areas and anyone who needs decent speeds and has to be mobile.

The other is the fiber bandwidth provider (ISP) who figures out and cracks the consumer market. The closest to doing this is Zuku (Wananchi) who started rolling out 8Mb/s high-speed fiber-to-the-home internet connections in Q4 2010 at only 3,499 Ksh ($45). These numbers aren’t reflected yet. My guess is that we’ll see Zuku tying up all the home internet connections in the major urban areas.

Estimates for those with internet access in Kenya is closing in on 9 million users, and at over 22% of the population, we can say we’re getting a lot closer to the critical mass needed for real web businesses and services to thrive.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the numbers on both mobile and internet are trending up, and at a very favorable rate. The indicators here prove that you should be paying a lot of attention to mobiles and data connectivity in Kenya.

If you’re a business, what’s your mobile plan? How are you providing and extending your services over the internet (and no, a website is not enough)?

If you’re an entrepreneur, how are you going to use this information to decide what to build? Are you paying attention to the wananchi, building apps for the upper class?

PDF of Report: CCK Report download – Kenya Q4 2010

Snapshot: Mobile Data Costs in East Africa

IMG_0073I get asked a lot about mobile data costs in East Africa, so thought I would put it in writing for everyone to find easier.

Mobile data access charges have fallen drastically in the last several years in East Africa, in large part to the SEACOM undersea cable arriving and increased competition between operators. Data connectivity is the new battleground, fighting not just amongst mobile competitors, but also with traditional ISPs.

In the mobile data connectivity space, each country sells either data capped bundles (or time capped bundles in the case of Uganda) that can be loaded onto a SIM card. There are out of bundle charges, priced per Megabyte or Kilobyte, but these rates are exorbitant, so anyone who connects regularly uses a bundle of some sort.

More creative offerings come out each month by the mobile operators, making it more confusing and harder to compare against competing services, but also offering some incredibly low pricing for entry-level users, or consumers who don’t need high speeds.

No doubt, a downward trend of mobile data charges will spur the growth of mobile web usage and publisher forwards.

Kenya
In Kenya, from charging internet usage at 10 shillings a minute just a few years ago, now cyber cafes charge 1 shilling a minute for browsing. The use of mobile data has been made easier by increasingly cheaper rates. For example in Kenya, Safaricom are offering a limited 10MB worth of mobile internet usage at 8 shillings per day. Zain Kenya offers unlimited internet usage for 3,000 shillings per month. Orange Kenya on the other hand are having a 7-day unlimited offer for their 3G network at 1000 shillings.

Uganda
In Uganda costs for mobile data connectivity have been driven down by the SEACOM cable landing in 2009, and led by costs cutting by Orange. Orange was first to the market with cheap, affordable 3G service and has played a major role in driving market prices down. They were the first to institute 5,000Ush/day & 25,000Ush/week packages for Internet – finally making it accessible to the common man. MTN, the larger network in Uganda,

Tanzania
Tanzania boasts some of the most unreliable data networks with the least penetration within East Africa. Zain and Vodacom both offer 3g, while Tigo offers GPRS. Zantel and Sasatel are CDMA networks, with EVDO connectivity. All networks, no matter what the speed of the connection, charge a flat rate of 40,000Tsh for 1gb of data. Data prices have gone down, but not noticeably.

While not possible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the rates between the three countries, here is a pricing comparison chart for 3g data on 1Gb bundles and 1Mb pay as you go costs for the leading operator in each country:

Kenya
(Safaricom)
Tanzania
(Vodacom)
Uganda
(MTN)
1Gb of 3g data
(bundle)
2500 Ksh 40,000 Tsh 49,000 Ush
USD equivalent 1Gb of 3g data
(bundle)
$30.90 $26.56 $21.63
1Mb of 3g data
(Pay as you go)
8 Ksh 120 Tsh 900 Ush
USD equivalent 1Mb of 3g data
(Pay as you go)
$0.10 $0.08 $0.40

As is true in this hyper competitive market, these numbers will change (hell, I’m probably already off on something). The overriding trend is that the costs are going down for consumers, even if slower than we’d all like to see.

[Picture courtesy of Stefan Magdalinski]

Kenyan Techies: Secondary School Survey

[Update: I’ve decided to keep the survey running for a little longer to get the late comers. If enough fill it out, I’ll republish the results.]

Out of curiosity I put out a survey to the Kenyan tech community 2 days ago. I’ve always wondered which schools in Kenya put out the most people who move into positions within tech companies, or start their own. I now have 200 entries, which is a decent enough size sample, though I know if we did a true canvasing of the entire community that the results would be slightly different.

[2010 Kenya Techies School Survey]

Here are the results

The top schools
Kenyan technologists - schools attended

Starehe Boys’ (20) leads by a large margin, followed by the other big private schools; Strathmore (9), Lenana (8), Nairobi School (8), Alliance (7) and St. Mary’s (6). It’s clear that some schools choose quality over quantity, such as my alma mater Rift Valley Academy (2)… :)

There are a plenty of examples, such as Gitwe (1), which had only one graduate that come from all over the country. Clearly, many techies here in Kenya had to fight their way up from a challenging environment.

Year Graduated
I started this off in 1980 and went to 2009. There’s an interesting curve happening within the community on when people cleared school. The highest is the year 2000 (25). I wonder if there was something that happened in the school systems at this time to make the number go up, or if there is some other reason for that bump in 2000-2002.

Kenyan Technologists - year finished secondary school

Companies you work for
I was amazed at the number and spread of technologists across the tech companies in Kenya. Here is just a small sampling of 127 different companies that were listed of who people work for:

Access Kenya
AFRICOM
Cellulant
Craft Silicon
Dotsavvy
Google
IBM
Kencall
Mobile Planet
Mocality
Nokia
Safaricom
The Standard
UN (different groups)
Virtual City
Wananchi Group

SwiftRiver: Curating in an Age of Information Overload

In an age of information abundance, curating meaning is key.

9 months ago that is just what Jon Gosier set out to do as he took over the reins of the SwiftRiver initiative at Ushahidi. Today he announces the Beta release, and unveils the new website at Swiftly.org.

What is SwiftRiver?

SwiftRiver Open Beta Announcement. from Ushahidi on Vimeo.

“SwiftRiver is an open source intelligence gathering platform for managing realtime streams of data.”

Using 5 different tools in the toolbox, you can create a host of useful applications. Tools ranging from natural language processing to handling duplicates, or a source’s importance in the ecosystem. Much like a box of Lego’s, the value and usefulness of the apps created are up to the creator.

SwiftRiver lets users:

  • Manage realtime data streams (e.g. RSS, SMS, Twitter, Email)
  • Identify relationships between content (e.g. email and tweets)
  • Set parameters to auto-filter incoming feeds
  • Curate content based on preferences

Swift code and web services

Like all Ushahidi work, the code is free and open source, anyone can download it, contribute to the code, and run it on their own server. Due to it’s complexity, SwiftRiver also offers a software as a service solution, allowing you to tap our servers for your own needs. Swift Web Services (SWS) is our cloud platform. The platform offers a number of different APIs to developers. With this platform you can easily beef up your applications with natural language processing & active learning, reverse geocaching, distributed reputation, content filtering and web analytics.

This first app, called the Sweeper is the first project to enter Beta and now ships with SwiftRiver. Sweeper, is a term Ushahidi uses to refer to people who ’sweep’ through a system, performing certain tasks, and it was for this reason that we put the Ushahidi resources behind the whole initiative.

SwiftRiver | Sweeper

SwiftRiver | Sweeper

History, contributors and code

The origins of SwiftRiver are in the community of Ushahidi developers and users. Chris Blow and Kaushal Jhalla asked some hard questions after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, discussing the need for something that can help with this information overload we have in the first few hours of an emergency or disaster. Today, we’re seeing the first fruits of that technology, and it’s exciting to know that the potential for it’s use goes far beyond the crisis scenarios that we first envisioned.

Matthew Griffiths (Uganda) and Neville Newey (South Africa) have done a great job hacking out much of the code and designing the architecture for the platform. They’ve been joined by an army of volunteers and contributors, including: Joshua Bronson, Soe, Nishith Rastogi, Mang-Git Ng, Josh Bronson, Ivan Kavuma, Andrew Turner, Chris Blow, Kaushal Jhalla, Ed Bice, Moses Mugisha, Victor Miclovich, Wolfgang Werner, M. Edward Borasky, Maarten J. van der Veen, Ahmed Maawy, Colin Meinke. A huge round of thanks to everyone who gave freely of their time and energy to move this project forward!

Find out more on the website at Swiftly.org
Download the code, v.0.5 Cape Jazz

The “Nokia: Innovating Africa” presentation

A special thanks to all of the commentors from the last couple days who gave of their opinions to help Nokia think differently about innovating in Africa. It was these comments that I channeled, where I served as a messenger to tell the Nokia executives who flew in from all over the continent and Europe for this meeting in Nairobi.

Nokia: Innovating in Africa talk

Points made in the talk

[Note: most of these points came directly from the readers on my last post.]

First, stop treating the Middle East and Africa as a single region. If you’re serious about Africa, treat it as its own region.

Second, stop colluding with the operators and start colluding with your customers.

The mobile space is more nuanced now, it’s difficult to create a handset that will change your fate, instead it’s a mixture of software, apps, web platforms and data costs (as well as handsets) that decide your future.

Engage developers, third party programmers and businesses is where innovation comes from, not a large, slow company.

Standardize your UI and OS, strengthen your APIs. Get out of the way and let software developers innovate on a platform.

Make it easy for developers to make money, even in Africa. Figure out a way that people get paid and can bill via your server-side offerings like Ovi.

Take some of the big money that’s being thrown at high-profile “global social change competitions”, which generally attract Western organizations, and do more smaller-scale work at the grassroots level.

A large percentage of users can’t afford the data plan to get on your own websites and the Ovi store. Zero rate them. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be eating Facebook’s, Twitter’s and Google’s lunch in this, as Nokia has deeper penetration with mobile operators than almost anyone else on the continent.

Consider a specialized site for Africa, loading fast on low bandwidth.

You were too slow on the dual SIM card movement, that if anything showed you had lost your innovative practices in the emerging markets like Africa.

Today it’s driving the cheapest candybar phone to the lowest possible price. Good, keep that up. While you’re doing so, make the battery last longer and keep thinking of great ways to recharge it (solar or bicycle dyno).

But, look ahead are realize that even here in Africa, people want Smartphones with real web browsers, social networking and entertainment apps. Do it for under $100.

You don’t want to hear it, but I’ll say it anyway. Software isn’t your strong point, hardware is. Consider embracing Android.

How about a multi-touch dual-SIM Android smartphone for under $100… can you do it?

SD cards = digital storage. In fact, provide these with content already on them, including books, encyclopedias, etc.

Cloud-based services, including heavy application processes, would mean deeper penetration into phones with less RAM, content backup, and a content creation and sharing link that is still untapped.

Be the first to implement 802.21 in your handsets, allowing a seamless handover from WiFi to GSM/GPRS. Lead the charge to fully IP-enabled phones.

Finally, nothing will get better by holding to the status quo and slipping into mediocrity. Now is the time for daring exploits, especially in the places with the most growth potential and where your competition is either light or weak.

Africa is ripe for experimental phones and financing models, what is new coming out of Africa first?

Facebook Zero: A Paradigm Shift

Just a week ago I was in Cape Town talking about how entrepreneurs in Africa are looking at the prepaid mobile phone market and are trying to solve for the cost structures for data provided by the mobile carriers. Who knew that internet giant Facebook would beat them to it?

Facebook ZeroThis week Facebook launched 0.facebook.com, where they worked out deals with 50 mobile operators in 45 countries to either zero-rate data costs coming to that URL, or paying that data cost themselves. This means that anyone, even those with no airtime on their mobile phone, can still take part in Facebook.

“Thanks to the help of mobile operators we collaborated with, people can access 0.facebook.com without any data charges. Using 0.facebook.com is completely free. People will only pay for data charges when they view photos or when they leave 0.facebook.com to browse other mobile sites. When they click to view a photo or browse another mobile site a notification page will appear to confirm that they will be charged if they want to leave 0.facebook.com”

Interestingly enough, 5 of the 6 largest Facebook using countries in Africa do not have access to this service yet: Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Kenya.

Top Facebook Countries in Africa

Facebook Zero is launching in these countries

Why this matters

What has happened is that Facebook, even with all of their problems and questionable ethical moves on privacy issues, still have a great strategist with a global perspective in their midst. What they have realized is that the only way to increase penetration in the developing world is to cover the data costs for their users (or, if lucky, snooker a mobile operator into not charging them for it).

I pay for someone to visit this blog. I pay my web hosting fees and that means that you can visit it for free. Almost. Unless you’re on a free WiFi service you still have to pay your ISP to connect to the internet. This is akin to me paying off your ISP for when you visit my website.

It’s a big deal, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this happening. It raises the bar for everyone else. If you want to play in this league, you now need to pay off the mobile operator for the traffic that goes your way. Meanwhile the mobile operators laugh all the way to the bank – it’s a huge win for them, and a big score for mobile web consumers in the developing world.