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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

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What Should Google Do in Africa?

This week I’ll be speaking to a delegation of around 30 Associate Product Managers (APMs) who are exploring leadership positions within Google. Along with them is Marissa Mayer, VP of Location and Local Services. Like I did when I addressed Nokia’s Africa leadership last year, this is a chance for them to hear from more than just one person with one opinion.

I will bring them your answers to the questions below:

  • What is Google doing well in Africa that they should continue?
  • What should Google be doing better, differently or new in Africa?

A Few of My Thoughts

Google has done what few other tech companies have done on this continent. Having 54 countries to scale across isn’t easy, so anyone trying it gets a lot of credit.

  • They’ve invested in people; both their own and the community in general.
  • They realized early that there was a need for tech policy change, and put time, resources and energy into that.
  • They have surfaced content, from maps to books to government data that wasn’t available before.
  • They have localized search into multiple local languages, made their services more mobile phone friendly and experimented with services for farmers, health workers and traders.
  • Their Google Global Cache has sped up the internet by upwards of 300% for some countries.

Here’s are my suggestions:

Double down on Android. Do this in two ways; first, keep driving the costs down, like what was done with the IDEOS handset. Second, help your partners (Huawei and the operators) push the spread of these beyond the few countries they’re in now (and at the same price as in Kenya).

Gmail ties everything together. Google has been the beneficiary of most other companies ignoring Africa. Facebook is the only challenger in the chat, mail and social spaces. Get started on zero-rating Gmail with the mobile operators, figure out how to make Google Voice work here, and extend Gmail SMS Chat beyond the 8 countries that it currently works in.

Figure out payments. It’s still difficult to get paid if you’re running ads or making Android apps, you’re not on an even playing field with your counterparts in other areas of the world. It is clear that Google Wallet is a strong personalized LBS play on consumers in the US. Take that same energy and figure out how to crack Africa, realize just how much money there is in a payment system that spans the continent.

Keep experimenting. Many don’t know of the apps and services you build and test out in various hyper-local areas. Some work, some fail. This curiosity and willingness to try something innovative and new is what makes the open web such a great space, and it is what helps us all overcome the walled gardens of the operators. Don’t stop.

Finally, though you have all the power and brand name needed to make things happen, remember that it’s the local devs and companies who need to own their space and especially their data. While flexing your muscle, especially with government types who own vasts amounts of data, do push for local ownership over taking it for yourself.

[Notes: hat tip on this post goes to Steve Song who started thinking through this years ago. Image credits from Memeburn.]

Barcamp Nairobi 2010: Day 2

Today is only a half day at Barcamp Nairobi 2010. We’re getting underway, and there are 5 talks so far:

  • 9 colloquial Kenyan languages in Whive.com by John Karanja
  • Live mapping using OpenStreetMap and GPS units by @mikel
  • “Build a Drupal site in 20-minutes” by @batje
  • “Geek girls in Nairobi” by the Akirachix
  • Explaining the Kenya ICT Board $3m grant by @Kaburo
  • Google Geo API

The $4 Million Kenya ICT Board Grant

“US$ 4 Million of the proceeds for Grant Applications for the development of digital content and software applications.”

It was announced 10 days ago, and there are already 500+ applications. Final applications are due by July 19, 2010.

$10k for individuals and $50k for organizations. That is a Kenyan citizen and above 18 years old, for companies, you have to be registered in Kenya. You have to show your resume/CV for the leadership team.

The application can be done online.

Two main areas of the grant:

  1. Government services and applications (5 ministries)
  2. Any innovative ideas around digital content and software

The first 46 grants will be handed out to both private and public sector ideas and applications. More grants will be given out to companies (30) than private individuals (16), but there will be an equal split between the two groupings.

Grants announced on August 15th, 2010, at which point they will be working on contracts. The grant will be given out in 3-4 tranches, starting in October 2010. The funds have to be spent within 12 months. There will only be 46 grants given out this year (2010).

A single company can apply in multiple rounds for a grant, but will only be given one grant per round.

What protection will your idea be given? The team looking at and reviewing/judging the applications will be signing NDAs. There are 9 judges who will decide the winning proposals, and they do plan on sharing the names of those individuals.

Some people are worried that if they have a new idea, and they’re working for a company, that that company will own it and not them. Kaburo Kobia is suggesting that if they believe that is really the case, then the individuals should break away before then.

If you have any questions, make use of their website, send them an email at grants@ict.co.ke, call them at +254-020-2211960 or visit them on the 12th floor of Teleposta towers.

Google Maps API

IMG_0978

Mano is one of the top engineers from the Google Maps team and he was flown out to Kenya specifically for Barcamp Nairobi. He’s giving an overview of what can be done using their API, well beyond the normal pointal use that we see all the time.

I asked him what they’re doing about offline mapping, especially for those of us in Africa who don’t have the same access to connectivity. Mano says that they’re concerned about offline maps as well, which they don’t offer, but not for the reason I suggested. Instead, they see most of the people in the world accessing maps via mobiles, so they need to be able to let that happen when data capability is not within range.

Tandaa Kenya Meeting: Local Digital Content

“If Africans are to get online en masse, they need a reason to go there. Their lives, their stories”

– Dennis Gikunda of Google Kenya, requoting Alim Walji who was at Google.org and is now at the World Bank.

The Kenya ICT Board is throwing the Tandaa event today in Nairobi at the iHub, sponsored by Google Kenya. It’s all about getting more local Kenyan content online, and it’s a good mixture of speakers so far, with Dennis Gikunda starting off, giving us examples of successful local content plays.

A “remember when” session just started, talking about how slow the internet used to be just a couple short years ago. Jimmy Gitonga scolds us for not doing more with what we have, figuring out business models and ways to make money off of our fast connections. He also reminds us that 2 million Kenyans access Facebook on their phones today. Moses Kemibaro steps up to give the real numbers showing the costs of internet, and the speeds, that has happened over the last year.

Joshua Wanyama, of Pamoja Media and Africa Knows, is up to talk about “The internet at 500Mb” – how to help Kenyan companies make money online. He’s giving us a short summary of his background, about how he started a web development company from the ground up in the US, then how he’s brought that same mindset back to Kenya.

“If I were to go online and try to find all the dentists nearby me in Nairobi, I couldn’t find it since it has not been digitized yet.” – Joshua Wanyama

Josh goes on to say that we don’t have enough success stories, though he does reference Ushahidi and Safaricom’s Mpesa. We need more of them, as it will help get more young, smart entrepreneurs operating in the internet space. Most of the internet traffic from Africa goes to websites like Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo, all outside of Africa. What are we doing to get our own content up and make it more of a viable business alternative for our own society?

Eddie Malitt of Sega Silicon Valley is here to talk about turning Sega village, a remote village of over 10,000 inhabitants located in Ugenya district – 25 km from the Kenya- Uganda border, into a “Silicon Valley” – an African ICT hub. One of the interesting findings that Eddie shared with us is that the children are leading the training of their parents and other adults. It doesn’t sound like their operations are self-sustainable, but that good things happen due to them being there.

[More of the Tandaa event will be going on today, but I’ll be unable to keep up with it due to other meetings. Follow it on Twitter at #Tandaa or @TandaaKENYA. I’m sure that Moses and Mbugua will also have something up later today.]

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