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The Grid in Tanzania and an African Mobile Phone Documentary

The Grid by VodacomThere have been a couple new entrants into the mobile and web space in Africa that I haven’t had a chance to review adequately. One of them is The Grid, by Vodacom. Also in this post is a new documentary on mobile phone use in Africa.

The Grid (Tanzania)

“The grid connects your cellphone and web browser into a social network that is aware of where you are. It uses cellphone mast triangulation to detect where you and your friends are and helps you leave notes on the places you go to”

The Grid launched into Tanzania in April. According to Vincent Maher, who heads up the project, there has been very favorable growth rates of the service.

Besides being a well designed and well integrated mobile/web social network, what I’m really looking forward to hearing about is The Grid’s location-based advertising unfold. For launch, they have partnered with Nandos, Sportscene, Jay Jays and Synergy pharmacies to deliver advertising within radii ranging from 0 – 10km from a users physical location. Vodacom has the muscle to pull this type of thing off, and the connections to create the advertiser relationships.

The Grid is really a direct competitor to Google Latitude (I’ve written about this here), something I’m really excited to see coming out of Africa.

Hello Africa

A documentary about mobile phone culture in Africa. I was excited to see the trailer for this last month, and the full version is now available. Find out more at ICT4D.at

Hello Africa from UZI MAGAZINE on Vimeo.

Before 2001, the year the first cell tower was erected in Zanzibar, people had very limited means of communicating with each other from a distance. Today, the situation is completely the opposite. Cell towers from main operators cover the whole island and people communicate all the time with their mobile phones. It is difficult to imagine how it once was before.

There are plenty of aspects about the ongoing changes that could be covered in a documentary, but the purpose of this fillm is not to elaborate and draw conclusions. The purpose is to catch the vibe, the know, show what’s going on right now. A snapshot of the Zanzibarian zeitgeist.

10 Great Reads Around Africa

Nigerian Banking Survey

Jeremy has a quick rundown of some numbers, such as:

“53% of Nigerian adults have access to a mobile phone, yet 74% of the adult population has never been banked”

(Full report: 7.3Mb PDF)

Vodacom South Africa’s Mobikasi

Vincent breaks out with his first new tech release since moving to Vodacom, it’s a location-based mobile phone accessible documentary on Soweto in South Africa.

“The location-based documentary looks at people, music, fashion, social issues and places of interest. Instead of showing the twenty-five minute documentary in a linear fashion from start to finish, Mobikasi splits the content up into twenty-five inserts of one minute each.”

Nominating Peace Heroes in Kenya

Unsung Peace Heroes in Kenya

The Ushahidi Engine is being used to run a new non-disaster related site called Peace Heroes, which hopes to highlight ordinary Kenyans who did extraordinary things to promote peace during and after the post-election crisis earlier this year.

Thoughts on a web cloud for Africa

“While all the pieces had been floating around in my head for a while I am just now understanding that we really need to drag very little out to Africa for them to have incredibly powerful technology in the palm of their hand (and that such thinking is inherently poisonous) and that we are better off attempting to facilitate the connection of their handsets to The Cloud in order to assist with effecting positive social change.”

O3b’s first internet package

The O3b Network is offering it’s first bundle. “Quick Start Africa” is a, Carrier Managed Service designed for Telcos and ISPs on the African continent who need a high capacity, ultra low latency, carrier class IP trunking solution.

“Life is Hard”

Niti Bhan talked about this at the Better World by Design conference. Breaking down why life is so difficult for the poorest people in the world and what can be done when trying to address these issues.

Facebook Garage in Uganda

Jon Gosier of Appfrica.net is heading up a Facebook Garage in Kampala on December 13. It’s a great chance for programmers to get out and get comfortable with the Facebook platform, and also to meet some of the devs. Get more info at the Facebook event page, and the Appfrica wiki.

Mobile finance – indigenous, ingenious, or both?

A must-read post by Ken Banks. “It’s not that people don’t understand banking concepts, it’s just that for them things go by a different name.”

A GPS in every SIM card

Talk about a game changer:

“…a highly accurate GPS receiver and an antenna into the SIM card, enabling network providers to deploy both legally-mandated and commercial applications for all mobile phones, with no need for software or hardware changes.”

Uganda-Congo border images


Congo-Uganda border picture by Glenna Gordon

Glenna Gordon writes a blog out of Uganda called Scarlett Lion, besides great insights, she also has some of the most amazing photography I’ve seen from there in a while. Check out here professional website to see more.

Adgator: An African Blogger’s Ad Network

Justin Hartman and the guys at Afrigator are at it again. I’ve wondered for a very long time why no one had created an ad network for African bloggers, thinking that there surely must be someone out there who wanted to advertise on some African blogs.

adgator

Adgator is here to ask that same question, and prove it out. Make sure you read Justin’s post on the new platform.

Afrigator recently had a sizeable stake acquired by MIH Print Africa, a division of Naspers Limited. This gives them more money to work with, and more credibility. This also means that they have a sizable sales team at their disposal, which is one of the biggest issues when doing an ad network.

Before you run off to Adgator and sign up, here are a couple things you should know:

  • It’s a 50% revenue split with Adgator.
  • You get paid on a CPM basis, so you had better have a good deal of traffic to make money.

Questions

I had a couple questions for Justin regarding Adgator, and he was kind enough to reply with some answers. Here is our dialogue:

How do bloggers outside of South Africa get paid?

At this stage we’re only piloting the program in South Africa. We need to test the viability of the program in the country where Afrigator’s largest base lies and if we can make it work here then we’ll take what we’ve learned into other African countries. When we do, we’ll most likely setup our own bank accounts in those countries so that we can facilitate the payment process from within those regions. One of the core issues we’ve always struggled with in the Adgator idea is the payment one and we realise that paying people from SA simply won’t work.

Are you mainly focused on South Africa right now?

Yes – we’re only SA for now. I’m hoping to roll this out to Kenya and Nigeria by March 2009.

I know you have a sales team, how much of those sales are done outside of South Africa?

None at this stage and herein lies the problem. Because we have little resources in other African countries it makes Adgator even more difficult to implement outside of SA. However, through our efforts with Afrigator we are working on overcoming this issue and establishing ourselves in our larger African countries.

How many advertiser are already lined up?

This is without doubt the most difficult aspect of the job as advertisers need to be educated in this process. That said it looks like we’ve got between two and four advertisers depending on how the final negotiations go.

South Africa – Barcamp Jozi

Mapping Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa

The Ushahidi engine (version 1) is being used to map reports of the current xenophobic attacks happening in South Africa on a site called UnitedforAfrica.co.za. The attacks are a product of foreigners moving across the borders, especially Zimbabwean, and encroaching on the lives of South Africans. I suggest reading this BBC article for more information.

United for Africa: Mapping reports of xenophobia in South Africa

Quirk, a web marketing agency in Cape Town is leading this charge, with Tim Shier, Rafiq and David Kobia all pulling VERY late nights last night to make this come together. Quirk will act as administrators on this build, and the Ushahidi team will step away from it as soon as the build is done.

The most important part of this type of campaign is to get the word out. SMS, email, call your friends and family all over South Africa and get them to tell their friends so that more reports come in. The more that come in, the better the tool.

A couple resources for this crisis in South Africa:

So, what’s up with this “Ushahidi engine”?
As you might/might not be aware, we’ve worked up a plan for a new version of Ushahidi (v2) that would replace what we’ve done as a free and open source tool for crowdsourcing crisis information and then visualizing that on a map. We’ll be presenting that idea next week at the NetSquared challenge in California, and are already building the basic architecture for that. This collaboration with the guys in South Africa ends up being a perfect example of the need for a rapid deployment tool like Ushahidi.

What we could use is more developers from around the world to help us. We already have a good dozen who have committed to helping in some way or other, ranging from the Bay area in California to Kenya to South Africa and Malawi. If you’d like to take part, please get in touch!

Blueworld: South Africa’s Social Network

Charl Norman is one of the great examples of new media entrepreneurs coming out of South Africa. He’s has an amazing work ethic, showcased in a growing blog empire and three popular social networks. What Charl has been able to do in the last couple years should put the fire under any other web entrepreneur in Africa. He does quality work, finds hidden niches and works hard to promote them.

One of the social networks that Charl created was Blueworld, a social networking site for (younger) South Africans. Recently 24.com acquired a controlling stake in Blueworld for an undisclosed amount. That’s a big success story for a little startup, and one that gives Charl enough money to go do even more exciting things.

Blueworld: A South African Social Network

Blueworld is a social community where anyone can join and create a profile so your friends can find you online, upload an unlimited number of photos, share videos, write your own blogs, support your peers with groups, send text messages to any network for free, discover new people and connect with friends.

I remember when Blueworld first came out a couple years ago. Like many social networks, it was fairly simple and bare-bones. Looking at the most recent version though, you can see major changes. There are a lot more people using it, and the site is more robust.

Like any other social network, once you gain enough users you have critical mass and the site grows on its own. With 137,000 registered users by March of this year, Blueworld is becoming quite a force in the web space in South Africa. By any measure, Blueworld is a resounding success story for Africa.

Find out more about Charl at his blog, but also check out some of his other work:

Bandwidth Blog (SA web startup news)
BlogBuzz (a mini SA blog aggregator)
Carblog
GayPeers (social network for gays/lesbians in SA)
NetBuzz (a mini SA news aggregator)
Powerloss (focused on power/energy issues in SA)
SA Rugby Blog
Zoopedup (automotive social network)

Quick Hits Around Africa

Building a Startup You Love is Hard
A new paper by South African Gareth Knight that gives valuable advice for new entrepreneurs in the digital space. He’s the creator of Kindo, a family tree application.

Startups Nigeria Blog
I’m really digging this new blog by a Nigerian named Loy. He’s covering some cool new apps by Nigerians, including CVCrib, which I plan on reviewing myself soon.

Nigerian Web Apps

Techpreneurs in Kenya
A PDF document by Business Daily that discusses some of the brilliant young entrepreneurs and their ideas in Kenya. Here’s the PDF for download

“Why Africa May Never Produce a Microsoft, Google, Yahoo or Facebook”
An interesting article that discusses the challenge that young college-level entrepreneurs face in Africa.

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