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.