Thinking about Blogging at WordCamp Kenya 2013

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

Today finds me in Nanyuki, Kenya at WordCamp Kenya 2013. The past couple years, I’ve been traveling during the event, but this year I get to come hang out with my blogging brothers and sisters.

As I was thinking about what to talk about, I thought I’d cover four areas:

  1. Why we blog
  2. My rules for blogging
  3. 3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere
  4. Using blogging as a tool

Why We Blog

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
– Lewis Carroll

The best bloggers are storytellers, they take you on a journey. They tell you why you should care about things, they’re opinionated and informative, and they understand what makes things interesting to their readers.

My rules for blogging

My rules for blogging

Commitment: to be a really good blogger, you have to commit to it for a long time. Success doesn’t happen over night, and if you take it seriously and really put your mind to it, you can leverage that for much greater things in the years ahead.

Quality: take the time to write well. Sometimes I’ll write a 4 paragraph blog post and it’ll take me more than 2 hours. That sounds ludicrous, but it’s because I’m trying to find the right phrase, link to the right places and put the right images in that make this worth someone’s time to read.

Consistency: this is where I’ve been falling down over the last year or so. If you consistently publish quality blog posts, you’ll gather a following and generate a community around what you do. I blogged consistently, 3-4 times per week for two years before I really got noticed. It’s important to remember that blogging is a long-game, and that if you stick with it, it will pay off.

3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere

1. The Kenyan elections
Back in March of this year we had the prolonged (5-day) Kenyan elections, where there was a lot of tension. Where I believe we traded “peace” for truth. I wasn’t surprised that the media didn’t do their job. I was surprised that there were so few bloggers who did theirs. I took a lot of heat for creating the IEBC Tech Kenya blog on Tumblr to track the facts around the IEBC technology failures, but I kept wondering where the other bloggers were.

Quote by @Gathara

One person who did blog was @Gathara, and boy did he blog well!

Our job as bloggers is to be independent voices, and we’re most powerful when mainstream media isn’t doing their job. When we do this blogging in a timely manner and get that information out there quickly and in a well-researched and circumspect way. We need to get back to our Kenyan blogging roots, which were just like this back 4-7 years ago.

2. Corporate sponsored bloggers
Making money off of blogging is fine, nothing wrong with that. I’m tired of cut and paste blogging though, where people take press releases from a corporate and get paid to just paste it with no changes. I want to know why what that company is doing is interesting, why I should care. I want to know what your opinion is.

Don’t sell out and lose your identity.

3. Kenya’s new media laws

Kenyan MPs have approved a contentious media bill that journalists say amounts to government censorship

I see articles on the East African, the Telegraph, the Nation, but only a couple blogs show up in Google search results.

Why? Already we have loose set of laws around media and information, it’s a slippery censorship slope that hurts all but the powerful in Kenya. This new law makes it even worse, it smacks of Moi-era censorship.

Where are the bloggers using this opportunity to push back? Don’t we realize that this law applies to us too?

Blogging as a tool

My final discussion points were about how even if you have very little, you can still use WordPress, Twitter and Instagram to build a brand. I talked briefly about where we’d come from with Ushahidi and the iHub, just using blogging and social media to get on the map. Now, we’re doing the same thing for BRCK.

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

I used the example and ran through the story of the BRCK expedition to Lake Turkana to catch the Solar Eclipse. I used my blog, as well as the BRCK blog to create the narrative, amplified by Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo.

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

When you’re building a new brand, what you write and the images you use, help people understand what the narrative and brand is about. For us, it was important to put a stake in the sand (literally too, I guess), about the BRCK being a rugged connectivity device. Nothing said that quite like the team behind it out and thrashing it themselves (and also thrashing themselves…).

The results of this were that by the time we got back a week later, there were many more people interested in buying a BRCK themselves, but also people who now wanted to partner with us and even invest.

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Blogging is a long-term strategy. The Ushahidi blog has been a big part of our identity for almost 6 years. The team who built Ushahidi were all bloggers, so it makes sense that it’s part of our DNA. For the iHub the same. For BRCK the same. I don’t believe in press releases, I believe in blogging the story and if you’re doing interesting things and telling the story about them well, then the right parties will find you.

DukaPress: A WordPress eCommerce System from Africa

DukaPress is a new customized WordPress eCommerce platform. It allows you to easily set up a fully featured online shop which can be used to sell digital or physical goods to customers all over the world.

I’ve been using WordPress for many years, and am a huge fan. When I saw DukaPress last week, I was at impressed to see that it was built locally in Nairobi, but I also wondered why another eCommerce WordPress build was needed, as there are already some good ones out there such as WP-ecommerce and Shopp. So, I asked the Kelvin, from Nickel Pro, and here is his response:

I know you’ve probably been using WordPress even longer than I and the rest of the DukaPress team so I can probably say you know that WP-ecommerce is a bit…buggy (I say this with the highest amount of humility, we are nowhere near achieving what they have). The other free WordPress e-commerce plugins are much less usable, to us, than Wp-ecommerce.

Shopp is really really good but it sits behind a pay-wall – which is okay.

We built DukaPress to be fully featured, yet super simple to use and, well, free. It actually did not start out life as something we’d give out to the public – we built it primarily to serve our own purposes at Nickel Pro because we build a lot with WordPress and when it came to building e-commerce stuff it was always a big problem. One thing led to another and DukaPress, the plugin for public release, was born.

Around the net where WordPress e-commerce is being discussed, there is always a lot of complaints, primarily against WP ecommerce (some people call wp ecommerce a trojan for their ‘for sale’ upgrade), we hope that with DukaPress, people out there have a viable and better (I hope!) alternative.

Other than that, we offer features that none of the other WordPress e-commerce plugins do! As you rightly assumed, we support all three Kenyan mobile payment systems ZAP, yuCash and MPESA! Although I have to qualify that and say that integration of this is still being developed to be more fliud. We’re just at version 1.0.1

How shall we make money with this? We already do, we’ve used it in at least 4 major projects for our client work and it has already paid for itself.

Other than that, we’re currently working on version 2 which will bring full WordPress Multisites support – so that you can build your own etsy.com in 15 minutes – among other features we think are nice. At that point (in the next month or two), we may launch our own etsy.com-type service (or, in better terms, a wordpress.com which can host fully featured shops); or licence the multi-site version of DukaPress for a fee; or both. No other e-commerce plugin has “successfully” pulled off a WordPress Multisites integration to date i.e. users still cannot build a wordpress.com that can host shops without a great amount of hacking.

DukaPress is also a gateway for www.madoido.com.

I think there are certainly similar plugins which may outperform DukaPress but I also do think it probably beats some of the more established ones. I hope the larger WordPress userbase gets to prove me right, but even if they don’t, DukaPress certainly makes our lives easier, and gives a really welcome international perspective to our business.

On a personal level, I’m impressed to see Kelvin and his team at Nickel Pro working on DukaPress, and I hope that they continue to make it better. If you’re a WordPress pro, or in need of an eCommerce solution, check out their website, documentation and features.

African Digerati: Adii Pienaar of Woothemes

African Digerati Interview: Adii Pienaar

Adii Pienaar (aka Adii Rockstar) is the 7th in the African Digerati series of interviews. At only 24 he’s the youngest one on the list – he’s here because he represents the success that can be achieved as a young digital entrepreneur in Africa. Just under a year ago Woothemes splashed onto the stage as a new seller of WordPress (blogging tool) themes.

Rumor has it that this might be the most monetarily successful startup in the new media scene coming out of South Africa… That’s in less than one year. Regardless of whether that is true or not, the fact is that Woothemes is one of the top WordPress theme sites in the world, and it’s grown out of Africa with a lot of work, an eye for design and passion.

Woothemes just launched version 2 of itself, called WOO2. This interview is in response to that, and a chance to take a look at one of the visionaries behind it. After reading the interview, take a look at Adii’s blog. You’ll realize he’s light-hearted and doesn’t take himself to seriously, personality traits that I appreciate.

Woothemes version 2: woo2

When was the seed of Woothemes planted in your mind, and what was it’s genesis? What caused you to go from idea to actually building something, and how did you do that?
I don’t really know… Magnus, Mark & I had been collaborating a bit more loosely and the business was growing quite steadily. So I think it was just a natural progression to formalize the collaborations into a business and brand it as WooThemes. Luckily for us, we had a good following at that stage and the foundations were good all round to launch WooThemes.

What inspires you?
Would I be egotistical to say that I inspire myself? :) Honestly though, I’m inspired by a bunch of different things on a daily basis; and those things are random at best. The “being inspired” bit, along with willingness to act on said inspiration is a result of me absolutely loving a challenge and thus being completely driven to pursue those challenges.

Who are your biggest influences?
Online, I’ve got a lot of respect for entrepreneurs like Ryan Carson & Collis Ta’eed, who are at the top end of this new wave of entrepreneurs. Offline I’ve always appreciated Richard Branson’s way of going about business and marketing his ideas. And then closer to home… I’ve learned a helluva lot from both my business partners – Magnus & Mark – whilst I’d be lying if I said that my dad didn’t influence my business mind a lot – especially when I was younger.

Woo2 is a redesign of the Woothemes site and the community platform behind it. What are the big changes, and why do they matter?
Facing outwards, I think WOO2 signals our intent with regards to further growth and also improving the current experiences on WooThemes.

On a business level, I think WOO2 is more professional and we put a lot more strategic thinking into it. So again, it’s some kind of natural progression of how we’ve grown. WOO2 is the next step and the next part of the journey ahead.

Woothemes is expanding to other platforms beyond WordPress (Drupal, Expression Engine, etc.). What is your strategy here, and when will we start seeing these themes for different platforms?
The strategy is basically one that aims to diversify our offerings (and also our risk of having all our eggs in one basket), along with the growth aspects (new products = new markets = new users). And whilst I’m reluctant to commit to any schedule in this regard, we will start rolling out the Drupal themes in the next 2 / 3 weeks, and we’ve already started work on the EE & Magento stuff.

There’s always been the debate amongst the WordPress intelligensia about some theme providers not honoring the WordPress GPL licensing. iThemes, Brian Gardner and others have changed stances. I noticed you have as well. Is this where you wanted to go, or was it something that the greater community forced upon you? How will this help your business?

I can categorically say that this wasn’t something we did because we felt forced to do so. Way back in August 2008, I told Matt Mullenweg (at WordCamp SA) that going GPL was on the horizon for us and we’d do so when we felt comfortable doing so.

And as for how it will affect / help our business… I don’t know yet. We’ve only been GPL for a day, so I guess we’ll have to wait & see. :)

How big is Woothemes and how active is your community? Can you give any numbers?
This is tempting, but I’d rather not share these numbers… Maybe in the next couple of months, we’ll adopt a more open approach and share some of these numbers, but we’re not into boasting about supposed success.

I can however say that our support forum has racked up almost 45K posts, which means that the community is active. And our free themes (6 of them) have been downloaded about 35 000 times in the last month… :)

You’ve successfully created a web business out of South Africa that has impacted people around the world. You’re tapped into the web in a way that few others are. What’s next? What does the big picture look like from a the Rockstar perspective?
I’m taking over the world, one WordPress installation at a time.

LOL no… I’m very content with what I’m doing at the moment and very happy with the space & freedom that WooThemes has afforded me. I’m still young (24), so at this stage I’d like to think that I’m trying to revolutionize my own life, in terms of how I work and how I act outside of business hours. Beyond further growing WooThemes, that’s probably my main focus, because I want to do this now and not when I turn 30 / 40 and realize that I’ve work my life away.

And a shameless punt… I’m writing a book called Rockstar Business that basically airs my thoughts & experiences within this journey! :)

Finally, what are your thoughts on the impact of blogging in your own continent: Africa?
I’m ashamed to admit this, but Africa is generally a deep dark place for me (which I’m planning on rectifying with a proper journey into Africa – for holiday – later this year). So I’ve honestly not met many Africans who are bloggers.

BUT… In theory I think blogging gives everyone a voice; a voice they didn’t have before. And that’s true freedom & power for me, which we’ll ultimately see itself manifest when Africa becomes one of the strongest nations / economies in the world.

[Disclosure: I’m a customer of Woothemes, having purchased (full-price) one of their themes for the Maker Faire Africa website. I’m very happy with this too, everything is rock solid.]

Quick Hits: Tech News

This week is turning into quite a week for tech news (that matters). Here are the ones catching my eye:

Opera Unite
“Opera Unite now decentralizes and democratizes the cloud.” A groundbreaking new initiative from the Opera team. This has the potential to be really big. I didn’t do my homework on this one, and after reading Chris Messina’s analysis, I agree this is lame.

BOKU launches
Mobile payments are going mainstream. BOKU’s system doesn’t require users to have a credit card or bank account.

WordPress 2.8
A big new release for the world’s top blogging platform. I, like Adii, am interested in how much people trust WP to get it right, and just update without doing any backups.

Digital Security
My friend Patrick Meier has put together what might be the best overview I’ve read on digital security in repressive environments. All the more important due to this week’s Iran events.

In completely unrelated news, I’m not working off of my normal MacBook Pro machine and it’s proving just how reliant I am on one device. Instead I’m working off of an Acer AspireOne netbook. While this is a great substitute and travel computer, it is definitely not anywhere near what I need as my daily workhorse. I find I am much less efficient.

Testing the new WordPress iPhone App

So, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new iPhone WordPress app [iTunes link]. Not because I forsee creating a lot of new content with my thumbs, but because it’ll make it easier to add images straight from my phone and easier to edit old posts. Lastly, the team behind WordPress tends to put out good stuff, so I want to see what it’s like.

Setup is simple and intuitive, just enter domain, username and password. Choose how many old posts to archive on the phone, and then get writing.

Now, I’m going to try to add pictures from my phone. Hmmm, not possible to just add an image inline, seems I can only create a gallery. I’d like some way to add individual images easily. I wonder if they could do this by allowing you to hide the keyboard?

I like how the screen automatically scrolls to the bottom when you revisit a draft.

Overall, this is going to be a useful app and will stay in an honored position of page 1 on my iPhone.

UPDATE: looks like the photos were not added correctly as a gallery, but inline. Not good. Let’s see if manually adding the gallery tag will fix it.

Update 2: that fixed it. Now to delete all the code injected. The last 2 images show the frontside and editor-side of this mess.

Happenings on the Web Front Around Africa

Worldclass Brand Monitoring Service from South Africa


South African marketing firm Quirk has launched a new brand monitoring service called BrandsEye. Global firms like Ogilvy, Standard Bank and the South African Tourism Board are already using it. I’ve yet to try it out, but Quirk is a solid company, and they have good companies already using it, so that’s promising.

Custom/Premium WordPress Themes out of South Africa


I’m a big fan of WordPress and all the customization and businesses that can grow out of it. A couple South African guys have been working in this space for a while, and have a great premium (meaning you pay money for them) themes offered at the new website WooThemes. (Adii, Mark, Magnus and Elliot have a great eye for detail, a boatload of experience with WordPress, and continue to impress on the international level.)

Google Launches an Africa Blog


Joe, head of Google Kenya, launched the Google Africa Blog last week. I’m sure all of us will be watching it with interest. No comments allowed though, which is kind of lame.

Quick Hits: Ushahidi and African Mobile Posts

We’re at the NetSquared conference (day 2) still, where we’ll learn the verdict of the voters on whether or not we win. So, cross your fingers! Here’s an interview done of me (short). I actually was laughing at myself since it looks like I’m talking into a fish-eye lense.

Short interview at NetSquared of me. I’ll add the one of David when it is posted.(video)

Ushahidi covered on the TED Blog

The Ushahidi team at N2Y3
(image by Manny Hernandez founder of Tudiabetes
and Estudiabetes, two communities for people
touched by diabetes. On the right is Vam Makam, our new friend and local expert from Adobe.)

After the NetSquared event last night, David and I took off for the WordPress party where we met up with Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress.

Mobile Phone Posts
One of my favorite bloggers has written a piece on South African mobile banking options.

A write up by Katrin of Mobile Active on the “Say no to Xenophobia” campaign being run by Cell-Life in South Africa. I hope their campaign starts coordinating with the United for Africa campaign soon, it only makes sense.

Jan Chipchase on, “Understanding Non-Literacy as a Barrier to Mobile Phone Communication“, part of a larger publication.

A Brief Timeline of Blogging Engines

Timeline of Major International Blogging Engines

  • October 1998: Open Diary begins and pioneers reader commenting
  • March 1999: LiveJournal started
  • July 1999: Pitas launches the first free build your own blog web tool.
  • August 1999: Pyra releases Blogger which becomes the most popular web based blogging tool to date, and popularizes blogging with mainstream internet users
  • June 2001: b2Cafelog starts being built by a few unemployed hackers
  • October 2001: Movable Type released
  • August 2003: TypePad launches for the non-technical masses
  • May 2003: WordPress.org begins as a branch of the b2Cafelog code, and quickly becomes the most popular self-hosted blogging engine
  • December 2005: WordPress.com launches
  • July 2006: Microblogging tool Twitter launched
  • October 2006: Vox Released by Six Apart
  • March 2007: Tumblr microblogging tool launches

Sources: I put the above graphic together from the following timeline that I found on Wikipedia, Enterprise blogs and the platform owners blogs.

Why?
I’m working on my talk for Where 2.0 next week and am starting to think that there is an analogy between current consumer-facing mapping tools and where we were in the early 2000’s with blogging and journaling tools. Not sure if I’ll even talk about this, but thought the research into blogging engines was worth sharing.