Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I Went For Google’s G-Nigeria Day And All I Got Was A Lousy T-Shirt

Attendees At G-Nigeria Day 2010 Day 2. I'm In The Shot Somewhere

I’m sorry. I really couldn’t resist the title. Google is an American company and considering that unlike all other technology conferences I have attended the only handout given to attendees (at least on Day 2) was said T-shirt, the title, also American, just wrote itself. At the same time, it is a subtle dig at Google. Let me explain.

G-Nigeria Day was actually 3 days (go figure) of Google marketing its products to Nigerians at the University of Lagos, Akoka. Day 1 was for software developers, day 2 for marketing professionals and entrepreneurs and day 3 basically combined content from days 1 and 2 for computer science students.

Google is one of the world’s largest technology companies. I would argue that, second only to Microsoft, they are the most influential technology company in the world today. Their official arrival in Nigeria (by way of opening an office at least) in the last couple of years is definitely noteworthy and shows their willingness to invest in our rapidly growing market. Google however have a somewhat different challenge than a Microsoft or a Cisco have here. Google is three things. First it is an Internet only company. Almost every single Google product requires you fire up a web browser. Secondly it is a consumer company. Its most important products are things the man on the street would use. Google Search obviously, but also Gmail, YouTube, Blogger, Docs, Buzz, Picasa. Sure there are some business and enterprise specific offerings such as Google Apps, Google Search Appliance, and nothing keeps anyone from using the consumer apps to run a business. However Google can’t sell units to a Nigerian market  because most of these products are free. Oracle can sell software or Cisco sell switches. So who would be the target audience for a Google tech event? That brings us to the third thing Google is, is an advertising company. They sell advertising against people’s content. So a Google tech event, a Google marketing event, is mainly an attempt to get content creators on board.

In the context of all that, I have to say that this event seemed…awkward. At least on day 2 (which is what I attended), as far as Google’s content was concerned there wasn’t much that was worth the journey there. I missed the AdWords and AdSense sessions (deliberately), but the sessions I did attend was on stuff already familiar or that could be picked up in 5 minutes on the relevant Google sites. The event was further marred by the factor that most of the projected content was just not visible on the screen due to the facility’s natural lighting and problematic audio. So it wasn’t a very good or very engaging set of presentations. The highlight event for me, though was the VC/Entrepreneur session in the evening. There were some valuable things said by the VCs and entrepreneurs, but the audience mood was mostly unimpressed. How do I know? Were there murmurs of discontent? Cries of “boo”? plastic water bottles through at the panellists?

No. Google provided free Wi-Fi. And we, the Twitteratti, tweeted to our heart’s content for pretty much 6 hours straight. The general tone of the tweets was that the panel could have done better. However, and this is what Google need to take away from this experiment, get a bunch of techies into a room, provide Wi-Fi, provide them a little prodding to get them headed where you want them to go, move out of the way and watch them at work. Kind of like the Indian experiment that put a computer in a wall and just let street children do what they wanted – with amazing results. From that event, I got to meet several Nigerian tech bloggers, exchanged a couple of phone numbers, blog addresses, followed and was followed by some more people on Twitter. I got a few answers to some tech issues from the audience and had some deficiencies about my blog pointed out. In order words, I connected with people – and that was the success of G-Nigeria Day. That was just me, I could see many other people connecting much better with the Google personnel and each other.

I understand that they need to get their business products in front of businesses and decision-makers. However, their quickest means of getting deeply into the hearts of Nigerians is not marketing events. It is code camps. It is in unconferences. Code contests. Don’t market at us. Your products are already free so you can’t give us freebies anyway. What you can do is put us in rooms together where we are thinking and talking about your technologies. Give us access to those technologies while we are thinking about them and while you are there to point out the little subtleties and tricks and you will get from us a response that no marketing event can give you. Building relationships with people creating content on your platforms – whether bloggers like me, coders like Michael Olafusi, or YouTube content creators is what will drive Google into a place that Microsoft’s currently occupies or just might be on the way to loosing. On the other hand, Microsoft gives event attendees a lot more than lousy T-shirts.


To read all the Twitter comments about G-Nigeria Day 2010, search with the hash-tag “#gnigeria” on Twitter.com.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Change of Plan

When I started Digital Crossings the plan was to write for a target audience that used tech and had tech intertwined into their daily lives, but were not necessarily tech enthusiasts. As a result I have carefully avoided topics that centre on technology in and of itself even when I had very strong opinions about something.

The problem is, I am still writing about tech and my target audience still doesn't care about tech. Since I don't push products or serve as a kind of help desk or technological agony aunt, they aren't interested. The effect is I don't get a lot of engagement and the writing isn't really plugged into any community. On the flip side, much of my writing doesn't (and shouldn't) interest the tech community. I haven't been really worth their while (the exception is StartUp Nigeria's Loy Okezie who has retweeted and republished several of my articles).

I am now changing all that. While I will continue to write the kind of content I have hitherto written, I will start to write about technology in and of itself. I follow blogs like TechCrunch, Mashable, TechMasai, LifeHacker, Loy Okezie and Afrinnovator. These blogs, with differing points of emphasis, have given me a lot to think about, and a lot to write about, even as I look at technology from a perspective that is uniquely mine.

I believe that to bridge the divide as this blog wants to, I should freely express things relevant to both tech enthusiasts and non-tech enthusiasts.

So if you see articles about the design merits the new Windows Phone OS hub motif over the iPhone's widget grid, then yes it does mean I have unleashed my inner geek.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Deluge Is Here

image I work for a pretty large organisation and in order to keep people working, the computers secure, the business compliant with laws and standards (as well as maintain sanity) we have policies in place to guide the use of those computers. The other day, one of the managers noticed that a large number of people were bringing personal laptops to work and expressed concerns. Specifically he was worried that (1) people would be using these computers to take confidential company data away, (2) waste company time browsing the internet on these laptops, and (3) be displaying inappropriate material (so-called NSFW) content on these laptops. He wanted to know what company policies covered this. As a matter of fact, he was hoping we could issue an edict banning people from bringing laptops to work.

My perspective was  (1) you don’t need a laptop to steal company data. 500GB portable hard drives fit into a pocket. (2) People wasting company time is not a function of a particular medium and if you banned laptops, then you should ban blackberries, iPhones and iPods, books, magazines and chitchat. (3) Again banning the device doesn’t kill inappropriate behaviour. Most importantly while we had rules controlling inappropriate use of company computing resources and inappropriate behaviour in general, these were not company computing resources.

I, personally, had noticed this deluge of computers myself and my problem with it was the owners of these computers were engaging my team members to troubleshoot these computers. I had made it clear that they were not to do this during work hours, but every time I see a non-company laptop around the premises, I see it as one more possible source of distraction for my guys. My point is I really am not in favour of people bringing laptops to work (disclosure: I sometimes do, but I can do more with my iPhone than most people can do with their laptops). Be that as it may, this situation is symptomatic of a coming clash between businesses and their workers over technology.

Let me explain. In my company, internet access is extremely tightly controlled. Granting internet access is approved all the way through to top departmental management. There are very good reasons for limiting access. Bandwidth is limited, the rise of social internet sites like Facebook.com has resulted in a lot of misuse (and yes company time wasted), it costs quite a bit to provide this access per head so for each person you give rights to you want to have value for money. So what did the great “disenfranchised” mob do? They got their own computers and signed up for their own internet access contracts. Take that management, I imagine them saying.

The wonderful part of this is that technology is becoming an integral and intensely personal part of people’s lives. When you are comfortable with something it becomes easier for you to respond to it. It helps you come up with interesting ways to use it. This benefits you both in your personal life – and at work. On the other hand, the manager was right, there is a real problem. People are consuming company time and resources on personal use of technology – but you can’t use a blanket ban to handle it. Indeed scientific studies are showing that many of the assumptions about social media usage in the workplace are not true.

In the US, from the 90s onward, technology started in the home and was imported into the office. In the 80s however, people were introduced to technology at work and it eventually crept into the homes. In Nigeria, technology adoption is continuing apace for personal use and in the workplace and the there will be sparks. Organisations are going to have to avoid kneejerk reactions and come up with ways to protect their technology investments, and the hours they are paying people for while not stifling the personal comfort their people are having with the latest and greatest technologies. That personal comfort is exactly what people need so as to let the technology stop being a novel thing, but just another tool that can be used to generate more productive business people.

Consequently, while employees need to be more circumspect about how they use both company tech and personal tech in the office, companies need to take a step back and re-asses how they can harness the enthusiasm people have for personal tech for their benefit.

As a real world example, some companies who provide Blackberry services to their employees will only provision a company provided device. some of their competitors, on the other hand, will let you provide your own device and provide access to company email on it. The first company is completely locked down security-wise, but needs to invest in the cost of the device, the Blackberry service and paying the phone bills. The benefit they gain is complete control over who has access to the Blackberry service, they limit their backend management costs and make sure the people who really need the service get it. The second company avoids the cost of the device, the phone bills and the Blackberry service and only needs to manage the backend and the running cost of connecting these devices to BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server). They still have remote wipe capabilities to remove company data if the device is compromised, but by having more people connecting to BES their management costs are more). Still, this is a win-win for both the company and the employee. The company has people constantly available to get work done wherever Blackberries work, while the employees get the tech toy of they desire for work and pleasure.

Whatever companies do decide to do, the deluge of of personal tech in the workplace is here to stay.


Correction: During my “Year One” post last week, I stated that the blog had 990 unique visitors over the last year. The absolute unique visitor count was 544.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are exclusively mine and are not those of my employer.

Photo Courtesy Andrew Simpson at Flickr.com


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Year One.

3304611829_4e942dfda3 Exactly a year ago, I published the very first post of Digital Crossings and committed to publishing at least one post every Tuesday. And I did it.

I started Digital Crossings for several reasons. First was the fact that I was a “fallen” writer. Having produced a huge amount of verbiage in university, it was virtually a sin that post graduation my writing had become as good as nonexistent. So this blog was an attempt to get writing again. Regularly. The second reason is that in returning to writing, I wanted to ease into it with a fairly “easy” subject. My history of writing includes poetry, fiction and Christian articles. I needed to build up some literary “muscle” – get a feel for the art of the pen again before going on to these types of writing again. As an IT professional, writing tech stuff for non-techies felt safe.

At the same time I did have something of a mission to do a tech blog that was accessible to non-techies. Blogs like Startups Nigeria and their ilk specifically target the technorati. I wanted this to be for people who interact with technology all the time, but do not necessarily know or care about concepts like “Cloud Computing” or “Web 2.0”. The writing was easy. Getting an audience hasn’t been, but the writing is its own reward.

Along the way I made new friends, encountered great technology, discovered great blogs, thought about quitting (lots of time), gotten home from work exhausted and with no incentive to write and written anyway, tried to get other writers for this blog (and failed), promised to create new segments and new points of focus (and didn’t do it), and surprised myself that I could actually do something like this with consistent regularity (if not necessarily consistent quality).

I guess what I am trying to say is that it hasn’t been as great I hoped it would be, but I have enjoyed writing this blog and succeeded at the main things I set out to do.

So where to from here? Even as I write this, I really, really want to say that I’m quitting this and moving on to other challenges. However, Yahoo has already debited my account for this domain name, so I might as well use it. I would like to get into some serious tech writing (the kind that would make my current target audience’s eyes glaze over) and get back to writing fiction and on other subjects. I will definitely start doing other writing on the web for myself and for others and pursue other tech projects.

The way I’m carrying on, you would think I had been doing this blog for twenty years, rather than one year. I’ll stop now and just give the stats:

  • 1 Year.
  • 63 Posts.
  • 1,576 Page views.
  • 544 absolute unique Visitors.
  • 37 Comments (mine included).
  • 48 Countries and 212 cities accessed from.

I’ll conclude by thanking you for being a part of the first year and listing what I consider to be the 7 most important posts (in no particular order) I have written – and two of them are not about technology.

  1. Let Me Take You to School.
  2. Sit Up Straight: Your Life May Dependent On It.
  3. Road Kill.
  4. From a Hospital Reception, Waiting.
  5. The Great Firewall of Africa.
  6. Complete and Utter Garbage.
  7. Then there’s Jos.


Image Courtesy of Wshooi at Flickr.com