Everywhere you look on the internet every publication is doing a top 10 of some sort or other. Time.com is even doing a “Top 10 Everything of 2009”. Some of the more intriguing lists are the future lists - What we expect, desire or dread in 2010. While most of us aren’t that much aware of it, it also the end of a decade so the looks-back are not just for the year, but also for the millennium so far. A recent study shows that Americans consider it to be the worst decade since the 60s.
Better people than I are no doubt doing retrospectives of the year and decade in Nigeria. Instead, I stay narrowly focused on looking to the year and decade ahead in technology for Nigeria. This won’t be an highly cerebral analysis of what’s coming down the road. Instead, it will be a wish of what I would like to see come down the pipe in the coming year. So, in no particular order here’s my list of 8 things I would like to see in 2010 and beyond.
1. Number portability
Number portability is a law in place in the US and other countries that allows you to move from service provider to service provider with your existing phone number. So I can change from MTN to Zain, Glo or Etisalat without having to give my MTN number. The benefit of this to the customer (me) is that there is no customer lock-in. If I decide that a provider no longer meets my needs, then there is no constraint of convenience that ties me to that provider. The vendors would be a lot less complacent about how they treat customers if they had no means to hold onto to them other that the quality of their service.
2. Government regulation of 3G internet access.
3G internet access is currently provided by the GSM providers. It is the most convenient form of mobile internet access and one of the fastest internet connections available in the country right now. it is also fiendishly expensive and the restrictions the providers put on its use are bizarre. I have typed more than a few words about this in the past year. The National Communications Commission and the Ministry of Information need to step in and knock a few heads like they have done with voice and with text messages.
3. Free and fair elections.
This is not a technology wish per se, but a wish to see how technology can be used to give us free and fair elections. I am not talking about electronic voting necessarily, in fact, that has consistently been discredited all over the world. I am more interested in seeing technology being used to monitor, validate and secure the vote.
All of modern technology for all sorts of uses such as education, agriculture, health care, wealth creation or entertainment are dependent on electricity. The last decade brought us from a nation of effectively no phone communication to the point of being the fastest growing market for mobile telecommunications. The new decade has to be the one in which every hut has regular power supply.
5. Data sets
One of our national embarrassments is the lack of large data sets about our country and citizenry that can be used for planning and commerce. I would like to see publically available data sets generated and made public by both the private and public sectors. For example, the census information and be published online transparently and publically such an ordinary Nigerian can use the data to plan a business and understand who and where his potential audience is. Another example is a system that gathers data on the traffic flows in Lagos and uses it for better urban planning, but can also be accessed by ordinary citizens to figure out where there is a a bad traffic jam and plan alternative routes. We can use data sets about the largest concentrations of crime are in cities to make real estate investment decisions as well as more effectively deploy police. We should have access to school performance data that we can use to decide where to send our kids.
The “Data.gov” project of the US government provides information about this kind of thing.
6. App stores.
There is an explosion of Blackberry usage in Nigeria. It is probably the fastest growing mobile device segment in the nation. And yet for most people they are limited to email, IM, a few other built in applications and a relatively poor internet access experience. As every iPhone and iPod Touch user knows, the glory of a smartphone is in the mobile applications that can be downloaded for it. All of the major smartphone vendors now have sites and tools that allow you to download additional programs that significantly increase the functionality and the pleasure of your mobile phone. The problem is, as I mentioned my rant about the fencing of Africa, these so-called “app stores” are not available to us in Africa. That is just plain wrong. The vendors either make those app stores available to us, or we build our own phone operating systems and app stores here in Africa.
7. Official support for the iPhone.
We need to stop having to jump through hoops in Nigeria to get the iPhone. It’s officially available in Cameroon. Cote D’ivoire. Niger! Enough said.
8. Original and Useful web apps.
I’m kind of tired of multiple social networks. Legwork. NaijaPals. Kukuruku. Naijaborn. These Facebook and Twitter clones don’t actually add any value to me and fragment my user experience. I stick with Facebook because it gives me a richer toolset, a broader scope and the same amount of localisation that these others can give me. Now if one of them would do something useful with the Twitter API (application programming interfaces that let a third party use the data or tool of a site in another site or program) or the Facebook API then I will sit up and pay attention. My point is the up and coming tech start-ups in Nigeria need to give us true innovation and/or true value. Something that can make life easier and better such as 1SpotSearch.com does or like Kilonshele.com has the potential to be. It doesn’t have to be something utterly out of this world. Just something that once we have it we wonder how we lived so long without it.
So this is my tech wish list for 2010 and the decade to come. One or two of them would involve the government initiating or running things, but most of them don’t. I firmly believe we have to build a society where the people create for themselves what the nation’s leaders are not. We do it everyday already with our boreholes, generators and cars. Why not with other things that we can spread to other Nigerians and indeed the world.
Realistically, I think maybe half of them are realisable in the new year. The rest may stay in the realm of wishes or take much longer to realise. Then again, this is Nigeria. Anything can happen. See you in 2010.
What are you tech desires of 2010? Let me know in the comments.