Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Go From Consumer To Creator.

The billboard dominated the landscape drawing the eye to it. The image on it is forgettable. Some young hustler obviously making his bid for success. The words, however, are memorable: “Go do Something”. Right now I forget whether the message was from MTN or GLO, but I cannot forget the words. The message is not new, nor is the idea a foreign one to me. The thought was not initiated by the sight of the billboard, but the tall white text does crystallise it for me.

Today, the ordinary person is suddenly capable of impacting the world in a way that has never before been seen. The ability to make changes, for good or bad, was once within the ambit of nations or the traditionally wealthy. For the self-starter it often took many years to accomplish anything and even longer for the impact to be seen. Technology has changed all that. Death has been called the “Great Equaliser”, well the internet comes a close second. Which is why so many are trying to address the issue of the digital divide. If we can bring the internet and information technology to many of the world’s poorest and most deprived people, these same people can not only change their own lives, but can in turn reach out to the world and change it.

Image Courtesy: crimzonblue on flickr

So this week, I have to say the same words to everyone out there who already have access to the internet - go do something. Use the technology you have access to to change the world around you. There are many things we use the internet for everyday. Entertainment, education, communication, acquisition. Yet much of what we do with the internet enriches no one but ourselves. That was the old internet where we went to consume the content that was out there. Usually, it was created by someone else, usually by some expert with specialised knowledge and some arcane capabilities to bring that information to the net. Today’s internet is one where every ordinary person can create something and put it out there for all the world to use.

There are many ways, with a little effort, that every Nigerian on the internet can do something that changes someone’s life for the better. It is almost frighteningly easy to do so. Many of the things you can do are free with the only cost to you the internet connection and computer (and if you can use someone else’s computer and connection even that is free). You can even use a phone. It is that easy. I should add that when I say “change the world” or “change someone’s life” I do not necessarily mean free services. Doing free stuff is very worthwhile and we also should find some way to give freely of ourselves. However those kinds of change are also what all great business enterprises are built on. The greatest business enterprise at the end of the 20th Century, Microsoft had the vision of putting a computer in every home. This vision took Microsoft to where it is today and is central to the worldwide computer revolution. So “go do something” could definitely mean go implement some great business idea that affects all of us positively.

Permit me to make a few suggestions.


I’m blogging because it’s the easiest way for a writer to put his work out there for people to read. You can write short pieces that shares ideas, critiques systems, encourages people or shares news. You can crusade for the homeless, You can record your adventures in the business world or record your sorrows. You can even serialise a novel. Easy. One of the most popular sites to blog from is www.blogger.com – my host and it is free. It is even easier to use www.posterous.com. You don’t need to sign up for anything. Send an email containing your first blog post as text to Posterous and they will set up your blog for you. With just a little bit of effort you can even set up your blog with the potential to make money from Google AdSense (by the way, click on the occasional advert on this page if you please) or some other service. You don’t need a publisher or distribution mechanism. Write it, post it, share it and it’s out there.


If you’ve used the internet for more than a day, you must have heard of Wikipedia. The free online encyclopaedia enables everybody create entries and edit existing entries. So you can contribute towards entries about Nigeria or about the Yoruba nation. You can add to the world body of knowledge on jurisprudence, or record the recipe for Zobo. This is still writing but unlike a personal blog, Wikipedia entries show up high in Google searches and a more likely place to be heard. More importantly, it is huge planet-spanning collaborative effort.

Become a Reporter

A few months ago, the brutal beating of young lady on the streets of Lagos caught the world’s (or at least the nation’s attention) because someone with a camera phone recorded the incident and posted to the web on CNN’s iReport. This incident, unfortunately not an uncommon one, was the subject of international outrage simply because someone spent a few minutes recording then uploading. Now if someone would mount a tiny camera on their car and capture the name tags of all the men in black collecting 20 naira…


YouTube is the world’s most popular site for video posts and has developed a reputation for being a repository for utter rubbish. However, YouTube, like the internet itself is morally neutral – it takes on the character of the content providers. So, if you choose to, you can create a huge amount of quality content on YouTube. For instance, an auteur (budding or established) can create trailers or even short films and distribute then on the internet as means to introduce people to his or her work. A budding musician could showcase his or her talents with YouTube videos and get discovered this way. That is how the rapper called Soulja Boy was discovered. Recently, an entire orchestra was assembled via YouTube. Think of the millions that are spent for such shows like American Idol or DSTV’s Naija Sings. With less than a tenth of the same amount of money, much less complexity and with the potential for much more revenue, YouTube accomplished something very similar. Are there any Nigerian poets out there? How about if we start a spoken poetry channel on YouTube? Worth exploring.

Sell, Sell, Sell

EBay is an internationally renowned auction site. Ordinary people can sign up to buy and sell stuff. People have become millionaires by selling goods on EBay. We have our own Nigerian version called www.Tokunbo.com. The profit motive is pretty obvious, but there is an altruistic benefit too. To wit, you can pass on items you no longer have use for that are still perfectly serviceable to someone else who would value them. This goes a long way to reducing waste in the world. Of course, you could give it charity, but if you don’t want to do that, this is definitely a way to get something you don’t want anymore to someone else who may have been looking for it desperately. You are also not limited to used things. You can set up a business on EBay or Tokunbo.com selling new things.

Program It

All of the possibilities above require almost no technical skill. However for the technically inclined, there are an infinitely greater number of possibilities. With the website and web application creation tools out there today you can create completely new systems. You can also go in a simpler direction and assemble new things by pulling things together from bits and pieces of other people’s work. There are a huge amount of APIs (application programming interfaces) which are bits of functionality that someone else has created that other people can use. These are called mashups. For instance if you create a site that lists all the parishes of your church in a particular state, you can have a Google map embedded in your webpage that shows the location of each parish relative to some defined starting point. So Google has done all the heavy lifting, you just consume it. You don’t even need a lot of programming ability to do it. With the right skill set, the right team members and the right plan you can conquer the world.

Tweet it Sweetie

Lastly, even if you are absolutely unwilling to expend any effort, completely uncreative, or just downright uninspired you can sign up to www.twitter.com and spew out 140 characters into the ether. You don’t need to connect to friends, maintain relationships, invite people or listen to anyone if you don’t want to (but you can if you do). Surely you must have some useful thought that can take up 140 characters? Surely you can say something that brightens someone’s day? Can’t you?


What other ideas do you have for how people can go from being a consumer to a creator on the Internet? It’s great to share.

By the way my handle on Twitter is “the_dej”