Barcamp Africa Finds a New (virtual) Home

A couple years ago, the first Barcamp unconferences started to show up around Africa. These loosely organized events end up having a large impact on the local grassroots tech scene and blogosphere. The open and unstructured format ends up fitting the African style of community and discussion around ideas and projects that just isn’t found in normal conferences.

Barcamp Africa Logo - large

The first “Barcamp Africa“, however, was a little different than the normal local events. It was put together by individuals in the US (at the Google office in California), some of whom were diaspora, and others who had a deep interest in the continent.

Maneno LogoThat was a year ago, and now the good people behind Maneno (a blogging platform made for Africa) have taken over the hosting of content around Barcamp’s that take place in Africa or that have an African focus. Beyond that, they have created a simple way for those putting on new Barcamp’s to setup an online home for it.

“The primary objective of the new BarCamp Africa hub is to encourage a continuous stream of participant driven content from African barcamps before, during, as well as after the events take place. Barcamp Africa allows each barcamp to have a simple, hosted, lightweight site specific to their event with a custom url. As an example, check out the recent barcamp’s in http://barcampafrica.com/swaziland, http://barcampafrica.com/madagascar, or the upcoming http://barcampafrica.com/abidjan. Stories published on this site as well as others on the platform aggregate to the main BarcampAfrica.com page (as well as the Maneno home page) and are exposed to the larger audience of barcampers all over Africa.”

As someone who has helped put on a couple Barcamps, I’ve found that there are really two components. First is the simple organization, which self-organizes best around a wiki – specifically the Barcamp.org wiki. Second, is the communication to everyone else around the community of the upcoming event, done best with a dedicated blog/website.

This second area, communication, is where the greatest value for organizers will be found with the new Maneno hosting for Barcamp Africa. It will be with the those who simply want to setup a site that will get them good, dedicated exposure and allow multiple people to write on it, with updates on location, place, attendees and initiatives arising out of it.

For those who haven’t tried it, Maneno has an incredibly fast loading blogging platform, specifially designed for low bandwidth areas in Africa. On top of that, it is available in local African languages that have traditionally had little web presence. Articles can be easily translated between multiple languages and sit atop one another to overcome the linguistic divide facilitating open communication between the different communities.

If you’re interested in upcoming Barcamps around Africa, check out the Barcamp Africa calendar.

Maneno: A Blogging Platform Made for Africa

Maneno means “words” in Swahili. An apt name for a new blogging platform being created right now by Miquel Hudin Balsa. It’s all new. There is nothing in there that’s part of some pre-packaged system.

Maneno.org - blog platform for Africa

Do we need another blogging platform?

When I first heard about Maneno, the first question that came to my mind was… “what about WordPress.com and Blogger.com?” Don’t those serve the same purpose? Realizing that my knowledge in this might be lacking, I contacted Miquel to answer a few answers. Here is his response:

“We travel quite a bit and I found that anything hosted in the US gets slower and slower the further you get from the US, so I worked to create a CMS/blog platform that was very stripped down, yet fully functional. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is a beautiful, fantastic system that I admire and also use, but when you’re on a satellite connection in Bukavu or very slow DSL in Sarajevo, it’s mighty slow to use, which is the same problem with GMail and other web based applications that were developed in North America and Europe. So, I realized that what I was doing for our personal blogs would translate very well in to a system that would meet a great many of the needs for a new blogging system for Sub-Saharan Africa.”

That makes sense. Any hosted web platform based in the US and Europe is going to have lag issues Africa. Every byte counts, so a system that has been custom built to work in this scenario can be useful.

Primary African Languages

Currently, the Maneno website interface is available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Kiswahili. Most of the translation work is being built on feedback from translators who work on multi-lingual sites and have problems with the interface – as most are built for just writing and not for translating.

“For the time being, since we are still in Beta, we want to incorporate about 3-4 more non-colonial languages in the next 2-3 months, perhaps Akan, Hausa, Lingala, or Zulu. For now, we’re trying to include languages that have a large amount of speakers. The system is quite open for translations, and we’re in fact looking for new volunteer translators.”

Maneno side-by-side translation UI

For translating individual articles, it’s a instantaneous system where if someone is reading an article, they just click on the dropdown next to it and go to a translation page that allows them to work on their version side by side with the old one.

Final thoughts

The site absolutely flies. It’s a lot faster than most other blogging platforms. I’m interested in hearing from others around the African continent on how fast the site loads for them.

Besides the standard text and images, Maneno allows you to add up to 10Mb audio files as a post. This is a great idea, and shows just how much they’re thinking about things differently, as many normal users of blogging platforms can’t figure out how to host podcasts or audio files to get them out in the public.

What Maneno is trying to build could be a really effective hosted blogging tool for Africa. Besides language and page-load speed, on their blog they state that they’re also thinking about using mobile phones as a way to blog.

The software is in it’s Beta stage, which means it’s time to try it out and see how well it actually works in the field. If you’d like to help in local dialect translations, make sure you visit the Maneno Languages page.