Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Then there’s Jos.

jos This is a tech blog. I have tended to avoid writing about most issues in the media eye that do not directly concern tech or its use. I even gave Abdulmutallab a miss. However, there are exceptions. Last week I focused on something that is front and centre in everyone’s view – the earthquake in Haiti. Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t avoid the deluge of information on Haiti. One of the key parts of the news is the tremendous worldwide push to provide aid to the victims. From organisations like the Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse, CARE, UNICEF and Wyclef Jean’s Yele to corporations like Microsoft and governments like ours, the rise to the challenge has been tremendous. Most remarkable are the many and varied ways that individuals could give or otherwise contribute. There was George Clooney leading a show that millions saw, and my writing a blog that hundreds read providing or pointing people to a means to give to the cause.There are businesses giving out products for free, developers donating all sales on a particular day toward aid for Haiti and telcos enabling calls be made free to Haiti and using text messages to raise funds. Haiti needs billions for its recovery and there is momentum towards getting it.

Then there’s Jos.

On the 17th of January 2010, violent clashes erupted in Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. This has left hundreds dead, hundreds injured and thousands rendered homeless. The worldwide news media covered these events, though the coverage paled in comparison (not surprisingly) to their coverage of Haiti. One thing however that is starkly different is the utter lack of information about aid for Jos. Who’s providing it? How can we be a part? I have searched the internet and couldn’t find anything. The Nigerian Red Cross has boots on ground in Jos providing assistance to the victims – and yet there is no information on their website about their work there or what Nigerians can do to help. An NGO, Freedom Foundation, associated with my church, made an appeal for support this Sunday for the victims of Haiti and Jos. However, on their website, there is no information about aid for Jos.

The point is, as an individual, a Nigerian citizen, it is a lot easier for me to get information on how to help an island nation thousands of kilometres away, than a small city in my own backyard. This blog post was meant to at least equal my Haiti post in terms of pointing to existing efforts and aid opportunities that people around the world can be a part of in some way to help Jos. It definitely wasn’t meant to be this short. It’s only this long because of my intro on writing about Haiti.

This post is short because there really isn’t anything to say.

The people of Jos are in need of food, water, clothing and medicine. They need help making contact with their friends and family who have gone missing and are hopefully still alive. They need help getting their homes and lives rebuilt. And that is just the beginning.

The World Wide Web. Facebook. Twitter. iReport. These are all tools that can be used to drum up support and highlight efforts. The relevant aid agencies need to use them. Join me in putting the word out. Join me in raising the call.

Red Cross. NEMA. Freedom Foundation. Everyone. I’m here. There are millions like me. Willing and able to help. Can someone, anyone, put out information on how?


Picture courtesy of CJAD News

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Helping Haiti

437-96Haiti_Earthquake.sff.standalone.prod_affiliate.58[1] You’d have to be living under a rock not to know what happened to Haiti on the 12th of January. An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale struck the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. This resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and effectively destroyed the capital. The rescue efforts are well under way, but in a nation with already deplorable infrastructure, helping people even harder than it would have been.

Aid agencies and governments around the world are flocking to Haiti to provide much needed help. They are giving food, medical care, machinery to clear the rubble and are engaging in various other rescue operations. All this costs huge amounts of money and while organisations and governments around the world are making huge donations, a lot more will be needed before life even begins to return to normal in Haiti.

The fantastic thing is that now, more than in any other period in human history the ordinary individual, the ordinary Nigerian, is able to add a voice and a helping hand to victims of devastation across the world. While we wait to see what we can do to help the victims of Jos, there are already plenty of options available for us to help Haiti.

First the local (and decidedly low-tech) solutions. The Lagos State Government has launched an appeal fund to raise a million dollars to aid Haiti. The funds will be lodged in a special Skye Bank account for this purpose. I haven’t been able to get any information beyond the press release for this online, and it is unfortunate that the state government has no info on their website nor did Skye Bank see fit to have this highlighted on their website as at the time of this writing, but I imagine (or hope) that if you walked into a branch of Skye Bank, they should be able to provide you with information as to how you can donate.

The airline formerly known as Virgin Nigeria, now Nigerian Eagle Airlines,  is also raising funds for Haiti. They are providing envelopes on their flights for passengers to use to make donations. The funds from the state government’s and airline’s initiatives will be provided to aid agencies. So if you’re flying this period, why not give them a try?

On the more technological side of things, there are several international efforts and mechanisms to help us give towards helping Haiti. First a group of iPhone/iPod Touch application developers are donating all proceeds from apps sold on the 20th of January, 2010 to Haitian relief efforts. They have set up a site listing the software available under the program. The site has both iPhone/iPod apps as well as Apple Macintosh software. iPhone/iPod apps are generally very cheap with an average price in the range of of 1 to 2 dollars.  So if you have an iPhone or iPod Touch break out your PayPal account and check out the apps available. I’m sure you’ll find one that is useful and you will be donating to a most worthy cause.

For straightforward donations, there are agencies that you can make donations to. They are agencies that have people on the ground in Haiti and rapidly deploying resources. If you have MasterCard, Visa or PayPal, you can make donations to one of the following agencies.

Unfortunately, in the midst of this kind of situation, thieves will crawl out of the woodwork to take advantage of people’s generosity. In your desire to help, please do take the following simple precautions.

  1. Do not click on links from unsolicited email messages offering you a means to help or pictures or info about Haiti.
  2. Only donate online with well-known aid agencies such as the ones I listed above.
  3. when visiting an aid site, be absolutely sure of the web address. Either type it into a browser window yourself based on information from a reliable source, or use links on well-known and reliable websites such as the aforementioned CNN.com or Mashable.com.

Don’t forget to pray for the survivors.


Photo Courtesy of Star Telegram

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

2010’s “Don’ts”

thumbsdown In last week’s post I did a list of things I believed Nigerians should do with information technology, particularly the internet, in 2010 and the newly started decade. This week, I’ll do the reverse – a list of things I think Nigerians shouldn’t do in 2010 and beyond. Again, in no particular order, here goes.

1. Don’t spend too much on the social web. I heard tell of someone who was so addicted to Facebook, she would check for updates on her wall while driving. Facebook was consistently in the top ten list of sites visited during office hours in my company. The use of social websites including Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and their ilk has exploded over the past few years. Even existing services with no real social component are trying to introduce some kind of social element. This is only the latest in a long list of addictive web trends. Unlike others, the social acceptability of this (as opposed to porn, for instance) makes the potential consequences (RSI, time wasted, disconnection with the real world, tweetering while driving, etc) less obvious.

There is value and benefit in social interactions on the internet. I have reconnected with long lost friends, discovered valuable services and built some relationships due to the social web that I would not have otherwise. Still, if you go into a depression because no one has “friended” you recently or if you need to tweet about every bowel movement, you need to re-evaluate how you use these sites. You’re going to far. Someone online suggested going on a social web “fast” to detoxify your brain. It’s not that bad an idea.

2. Don’t go online until you have a fully functional malware protection system. That’s clear enough. Aside from AVG Free, Avast Home Edition and a few others, Microsoft has also released their own free malware protection tool called Microsoft Security Essentials. These basic tools provide “good enough” malware protection, but to have fully integrated suites that provide comprehensive protection across most fronts, you should shell out some money on the likes of Norton Internet Security Suite (which comes in an Africa specific version and pricing), the full AVG suite, PC Antivirus, Sophos, MacAfee of one of several top qualities suites. Another solution is to simply change from Windows to Linux or Apple which have much fewer incidents of malware.

3. Don’t use a computer without backup tools. I won’t say much more than read my post on the subject. However, to put it in perspective, it isn’t only from computers that we can lose data. I lost a number of significant pictures last year when I lost my digital camera and people lose contacts all the time when they lose their cell phones. Most electronic gadgets today are data centric, and come with means to back them up.

4. Don’t do internet crime. There’s this place in California called Silicon Valley where the brightest minds on the planet work to create products that will shape the world through internet and other information technology. I am absolutely convinced that the “Yahoo boys” have the smarts to do the same. Let’s turn our remarkable Nigerian minds to creative, rather than destructive genius.

5. Don’t leave your children online without a chaperone. This current generation of Nigerian kids are the internet generation. As the MTV (or Channel O) generation was shaped by music videos into what they are, today’s teens and pre-teens will be shaped into adulthood by the web. That is both a glorious and a horrific thought. The glory is in working with them to ensure they get the best the web has to offer and avoid the worst. You cannot keep them away from the web or the web away from them you can only hold their hand (or not) as they go exploring.

6. Lastly, don’t visit this this blog without leaving a comment. Seriously guys if you can make it through the blog itself, you can take a few minutes to type in your thoughts on what you read.

So what are your thoughts as to what to do or what not to do with tech and the internet in this new year?


Image courtesy of Zigeunerweisen at www.Flikr.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

As the Decade Begins


It’s 2010 and a fresh new decade has begun. The “noughties” saw tremendous advances in technology. This was best represented in Nigeria by the explosion of cell phone usage. The new decade will be the age of the internet – the mobile internet in particular. We already see the beginnings of this in Nigeria with the increasing popularity of blackberries and the milestones recorded by opera mobile, with Nigeria being in their top ten growth lists last year. Once again, we will almost certainly see Nigerians leapfrogging existing technology by adopting the mobile internet, particularly on phones, far more than on PCs and laptops.

The big question is how are you going to use the technology currently at your fingertips and coming just round the corner? With a purely cursory look at the research done by Web Trends Nigeria, Nigerians read news and talk in forums as the vast majority of their activities online. If I am going to be harsh about it, this really means that more often than not, what we do online isn’t very useful in the great scheme of things. Look at it this way, if you stopped most of what you do on the internet today, how much poorer will your life be? If your answer is – “not much poorer” or even “richer” then in 2010 and beyond, you need to rethink how you use technology. I have a few suggestions to make in that regard. Many of them are things that I have blogged about in the past 11 months, so this sort of serves as a bit of a look-back at the past year on this blog. It also feeds off last week’s blog post in which I created my 2010 wish-list. Lastly my suggestions are for institutions as well as individuals. So if you use the internet at home, or your run a business or serve in some government agency, or work in an organisation, these suggestions are for you.

1. Use the internet to make services easier to access for the citizenry. Lagos state, UME, and a few others have been using the Internet as medium for people to register for things, pay rates and taxes and get useful information. I would suggest that the ministries of information and science and technology (does that ministry exist?) come up with a unified strategy to enable every single government agency at all tiers of government go digital and connected. I believe they can deliver this framework within the next 3 years.

2. Get educated. Formal and informal educational opportunities are all over the internet. If you just want the knowledge or you want a certificate to go with it, then there are vast resources for you. Youtube.com/edu, Itunes University, my alma mater, University of Liverpool Online, and very many more, you can get enough to elevate your mind. I would suggest you decide on a 6 month or one year target of some specific body of knowledge you want to educate yourself in and look up what’s available to get you there.

3. Use the internet for activism. Most of us care strongly about one thing or the other. AIDS. The plight of the homeless. Electricity (Light Up Nigeria). Education. The internet is a great way to get the word out and drum up support on a variety of issues. Facebook Causes is a tool on Facebook specially designed for activism.

4. Get into the great online marketplace. Ecommerce is one of the great opportunities of the internet that is really yet to take off in Nigeria. There has been the historical problem of payment systems that have largely been solved, but there is the much bigger concern over internet fraud and scams that will be harder to overcome. So this particular suggestion is a multipronged one. The payment processors, Interswitch, Valucard and others, show put in place systems and education to help Nigerians be more protected and feel more protected for online transactions. Secondly, there is great opportunity for new entrants into the space to address some of the issues from new and interesting angles, so you bright internet entrepreneurs out there come up with something. Thirdly, if you sell something, please introduce a full online shopping solution, to give the opportunity to get at your products without having to contemplate getting stuck in traffic. Lastly, those of us with buying power should get willing to explore the use of ecommerce and online payment systems. You can start with bill payment which many banks offer and move on to online purchases at sites like www.MegaPlazaMall.com. Having said that, I am not advocating going on a spending spree. Just explore more ways to get your shopping done.

5. Banks should provide more online services. I know, I know. With the recent issues caused by mismanagement and the CBN’s dealing with those issues and with the job losses in the industry, the banks are not exactly focusing on IT innovations right now. Still to get ahead and stay ahead the banks need to provide new and better ways to get at their services. It is telling that GTB’s website is in the top ten visited sites (at least in December) as reported by Web Trends Nigeria. I bank with GTB and they are miles ahead of my previous bank, Union Bank, in what they provide online. However, I would like to see more. One of the things I found interesting about personal financial management software like Microsoft Money and the new darling on the block – Mint.com, was the ability to integrate with your bank account for budgeting, automated bill payment and a host of other personal services. I would challenge GTB and other banks to look to providing similar services that make their online services richer.

6. Listen more. As I said earlier, we spend an inordinate amount of time consuming information on the internet. I would like to recommend the same for our service providers. The companies that sell to us and take our money need to listen to us more. More Nigerian businesses have become turned onto Facebook, Twitter and other solutions to engage with customers. More businesses ought to do that and for those who do, we would like to see the outcome of that engagement. The aforementioned GTB uses both Facebook and Twitter to communicate with users, but I don’t see as much response to issues actually been dealt with via these forums as there could be. MTN, my favourite whipping horse, had a twitter account for all of 5 minutes, then it disappeared.  If any business  merely uses Twitter as a marketing environment, then it will be wasting a great opportunity to cement relationships with customers.

7. Give a computer to someone who doesn’t have one. Now this isn’t strictly the internet, but giving someone a computer will certainly be a step to providing access to it and even without internet access, a computer is a great tool for a variety of uses.

8. Use it or give it up. Taking off from the last point, if you have a computing resource, whether a computer, a computer textbook, a piece of software taking up gigabytes of space on your PC, internet access or something else digitally related, I would encourage you in 2010 to either find some productive use for it, find someone who will find productive use for it, or else throw it out. If it is software uninstall it or delete it. Go through the year without unnecessary clutter or waste.

Almost every one of the suggestions I listed above are also great opportunities for smart Nigerians to bring businesses online to address these concerns or provide these services. As I congratulate Loy Okezie on the launch of www.StartUpsNigeria.org, I would like to again add my voice to the call for Nigerians to get creative with the internet and information technology.

What would you suggest to Nigerians on the technology front in 2010 and beyond?