Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Clone Wars – The Prelude.

Star Wars Clone Wars Psoter I have been thinking of doing a series for sometime now that I was going to call “Clone Wars” in which I was going to discuss Nigerian sites that are copies of international sites and look at the pros and cons of that approach to internet commerce. It was a series I was going to treat with a lot of care because while my initial thinking was that cloning wasn’t a good idea or something that I respected, I have since rethought that perspective I realised that there is actually a lot of potential and validity to cloning if handled well.

Well, about a week ago, Techmasai (Munashe Gumbonzvanda) wrote a post entitled “Opinion Piece: An Experiment To Utilize Mostly African Social Media Platforms” in which he said he was going to stop using non-African internet tools where possible as an experiment and to “focus and engage our primary audience more openly and regularly.”

I wrote a comment on that post:

“I'd like to see how your experiment plays out. How do you measure it as a success or not a success? It's not an experiment if there isn't something you measure and results you can share. May take on using African social media is that they have to give me something more than the competition. In other words they have to give me more value the others. So for instance with twitter, I can log on to disqus with my twitter account to post this. I can't with gistcaster. In such I pay the highest compliment to our local entrepreneurs by holding them to the same standard I would the international equivalent. They have to provide me at least as much value as their better known competition or they have to give me something compelling that the others can't. No one international gives me what gives me for instance, on the other none of our pan-African social networks gives me what I get from say facebook. In summary, I need differentiation from any web app from me to use it, whereever it comes from.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Elevating The Internet Industry: 3 Things We Need

Africa_thumb Last week, we had the East/West Twitter Chat with Internet entrepreneurs from different parts of Africa and the Diaspora. You can find the transcript here, starting from the “2:01 PM” mark. The intense 90 minute session may not have quite fulfilled its mission, but it did provide valuable lessons. One of them is the lack of, and great need for, greater community among Africa's technology practitioners - whatever regional scope they may choose to exist in. Kenya has the iHub. Conferences and Unconferences are events where for a few brief moments like-minded individuals gather and share ideas and make connections. There are a few tenuous connections revolving around a few blogs and Twitter connections. This is not enough. I believe we need to put 3 things in place to strengthen what we are building.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Internet Business Cultures in Africa: East + West - ICTworks Twitter Chat Starts Soon

The Internet Business Cultures in Africa: East + West - ICTworks Twitter Chat starts in a few hours. It may be a bit unclear to some (as it was to me) how to get into the session. It's quite simple. At the start time browse to You will be expected to login with your Twitter credentials.



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Take A Bow

applause In two days an event I helped orchestrate, or at the least planted the seed for, will take place where African Technology Entrepreneurs from the east and west coasts will compare notes about what makes them who they are. These are men and women who have committed themselves, for many reasons, to make the internet the tool they will use to change their individual fortunes or those of their societies, and in some cases both.

They do this in the face of great difficulty. In Nigeria we simply do not have electricity. Individual access to the internet is ridiculously expensive. let’s not even get started on the political issues. The folks on other side of the continent have their own equally daunting challenges. Still they have determined to make this their canvas for creativity and their marketplace for prosperity.

Despite the difficulties, these visionaries strive on to make their mark on the world. As a blogger, I have the really easy part. I look at what other people are doing and say things like “you should have done it this way” or “you should do this instead of that” or even “what a stupid idea that was”. I can make broad sweeping pronouncements from the comfort of my keyboard. I can chronicle in a few thousand words what people lived and suffered through. It is dead easy to be just like every armchair Arsenal fan declaring what he would have done in Wengar’s shoes. I am not one of those spending sleepless nights pounding away at lines of code that don’t compile right until weeks of inspection show that the problem was using “0” instead of “O” in the 3795th line of the 97th class specification. Tough as my corporate IT job can be, I can only imagine the challenges of driving traffic to a great digital product that no one knows or cares about that comes up as the one million, three hundred and fifty-five thousand, nine hundred and sixty-second search result – and that’s after you’ve applied every search engine optimisation principle you can find. Then some bozo like me comes along and says it’s just another Facebook clone.

Which is why I write this piece to celebrate you guys. I and others like me will continue to write, both promoting and pummelling your work because, well it needs to be done. You need to be challenged to do better. To stretch your selves. To do more. We need to write to chronicle your challenges, to highlight your victories and record your errors for all to see and learn from. For in recording, we help give perspective to your works and in our own ways shape the future.

So, before I continue with that mission, I pause to celebrate your industry, your ingenuity and your tenacity. I think you guys are doing a tremendous work and I believe, Nigeria, Africa and the world as a whole will benefit from what you do. Some of you will even smile to the bank. So what if the ISP fouls up and the hard drive crashes, or you delete all your content because you slept off on your keyboard or just before you launched someone releases the exact same product? You’ll figure out a way to make it happen. You already have.

So, the Internet Entrepreneurs of Africa, all rise. Step forward. Take a bow.


Image courtesy of shaggy359 at

Monday, April 19, 2010

Internet Business Cultures in Africa: East + West - ICTworks Twitter Chat

It’s official, the “East Helping West Helping East” discussion is taking place on 22nd of April. The actual title is less colourful, but more to the point. “Internet Business Cultures in Africa: East + West”. Find below, verbatim, the release from ICT Works:


Last month, we had an amazing Skype Chat on Nigerian Internet Business Opportunities - over 40 entrepreneurs and netcitizens joined in a lively debate on new business models and enabling factors to bring Nigeria to the forefront of online business innovation.

But what about East Africa? Kenya surely has the same level of Internet-based buzz as Nigeria. And Uganda isn't far behind. So this brings forth a few questions we should examine:

  1. How might Internet business opportunity and entrepreneurship be different in East Africa versus West Africa?
  2. What could each region learn from the other?
  3. And what can we do now to improve cross-Africa collaboration?

These are the questions we'll discuss in the next ICTworks Twitter Chat - a freewheeling conversation around our central questions on the Twitter platform.

We'll start at 14:00 GMT (your timezone) on April 22nd with introductions, then move into the discussion, using the#ICT4D hashtag in Twitter. Be sure to RSVP here.

  • Handy Re-Tweet
    :Internet Business: East + West Africa -
    #ICT4D Tweet Chat 4/22 @ 14:00GMT -

Our hope is to learn from each other and find ways we can increase Internet business opportunity and entrepreneurship across Africa.



So Register for the event and join the discussion this Thursday.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

East Helping West Helping East Helping West Helping… Well, You Get the Idea

africamapx Some weeks ago, Wayan Vota caused quite a stir when he wrote a post alleging that the Kenyan internet industry was better than the Nigerian internet industry. Quite a number of Nigerians weighed in on the blog and it resulted in a slew of comments and rejoinders (the Kenyans stayed out of the discussion for some reason). I suggested to Wayan then that we have a debate between the Nigerian and Kenyan industries to compare and contrast what made them what they were. Instead we ended up doing the highly productive discussion about the internet business opportunities available in Nigeria. The transcript of that discussion is here and my thoughts on it are here.

I added a bit of humour to my post reminding Wayan that he still owed me a debate between East African Internet entrepreneurs and West African Internet entrepreneurs. I believe there are interesting differences between what is happening in Nigeria and Kenya that are worth discussing. Kenyans seem to have solutions with a heavy focus on empowerment and socio-economic accessibility, while over here we seem to keep a very keen eye on the global trends and can rapidly iterate local versions of global solutions in a way that fits how our people do things.

This time Wayan agreed with the idea of a discussion and like the previous session we plan to do something at the end of this month (April, 2010). However, it has to be a meaningful discussion, not a bunch of African lions roaring superiority over each other. We came up with the following topic that we believe will be valuable to both sides and can help foster new and fruitful relationships: “The evolution of start-ups culture in Africa: how the East differs from the West and what we can learn from each other”.

We hope to get a group of entrepreneurs from both sides of Africa talking about their experiences and passing on learning points. We hope that out of this will come partnerships that will benefit Africa and the internet as a whole. While much of the thinking and discussion leading up to this has focused on Nigeria and Kenya, we do not plan to exclude internet business people from other parts of the continent and extend an invitation to all to participate.

I had to write this post before the details were worked out because one of the Kenyans that I invited, Joshua Wanyama of Afrinnovator, was cautious about participating without more information about what the purpose is. To reiterate, the purpose is getting African internet business people talking about the way things work in their societies in a way that will give everyone ideas, draw solutions to some of the pain points and cause an exchange of contact information that could result in a lot more coast to coast commerce and friendships.

I, Wayan, Possicon of WebTrends Nigeria, and others will share word on time, date, and forum once we have all that worked out. If you are interested, particularly if you are from outside Nigeria, please give me shout on Twitter at


Map courtesy of The interactive learning maps on the site are great for your kids to try out.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Of Viruses and Acid Rain

waiting for rain I am one of the lucky Nigerians who don’t need to drive long distances to get to work. One effect of this is that I don’t spend much time listening to my car radio. However, one radio show I do get to hear and really enjoy listening to is the Daily Guide on Star 101 FM from 7.15 am and 7.30 am. I seriously love Moyo and Mofe Oyatogun’s take on the news. This isn’t because their reports are necessarily of scintillating intellectual content or breathtaking in vision. Instead, I like their news show because they bring texture to what is traditionally dry and monotonous. Their back and forth makes the news fun to listen to.

On two occasions however, they quite annoyed me. Late last year, December I believe it was, Mofe reported on a computer virus that was making the rounds. This virus was supposedly the most dangerous virus ever known. Microsoft and CNN were apparently both reporting it as the virus to end all viruses. For those familiar with such things, it was clearly a tried and tired hoax. And it was being reported as fact over a radio show that is listened to by thousands if not hundreds of thousands of uninformed listeners. This particular hoax has been recycled repeatedly since the last century. I wrote about it earlier in my blog post on hoaxes and talked about how to validate and verify those kinds of reports.

Act two. A couple of weeks ago, the Acid Rain hoax filled the airwaves. Apparently a text message had gone around Lagos that a rain of acid was coming and people should take cover. Again my second favourite (Dan Foster’s my first) radio personalities reported it as news. Let’s give them credit this time. They brought some skepticism to the story and followed up with a bit of journalistic fact-finding to “to see if these things were true”. Still, the results they came back with did much less that clear up the issue or expose it as the hoax it clearly was.

Both these incidents worry me because of several things. First, as I said wrong information was reported as news. The journalist apparently received the information about the virus in an email message. As a good citizen who wanted to make sure people she knew didn’t get their computers infected, she decided to let as many people as she knew know about it. For most of us that would have meant forwarding the email to as many people as we could and asking them to do the same (creating the flood of messages that was the hoaxer’s intent). My Daily Guide folks, being radio journalists, just happened to be in a position to share this hoax with all her teeming radio fans.

Most people in Nigeria don’t know computers. Beyond the basic uses they put their PCs to, they really know just enough to get into trouble. So those of us who speak to the public in any form or fashion (radio or blogs) need to be as sure as we can that we are not spreading misinformation. Because someone will believe us. The public sound of our voice gives us the fallacy of legitimacy. Consequently we have a greater duty to ensure veracity. I kind of hold myself responsible for not calling into the station or sending them an email debunking the first story. As a blogger and computer professional, I should have done what I could to get the word out over the same medium the hoax was spread.

The second incident is the more chilling one. This isn’t really a computer issue and the domain knowledge needed to debunk the hoax is different. Still secondary school encyclopedia reading was all the information I needed to be sure it was a hoax. The initial word went out over SMS before being picked up by the news media. Nigeria is a cell phone nation. The increase in our tele-density over the past decade has been off the charts. Many technology and developmental thinkers have recognised that the cell phone, for most of our population, is the equivalent of the computer and the internet. The great thing about cell-phones is that they are so cheap that most people independent of income or education can afford one. What makes them great also makes them a huge problem. If you want to reach most Nigerians as individuals you sent mass SMS. Those messages resonate more and somehow seem more authentic to many than a news broadcast. Possibly because text messages carry a sense of personal communications with them.

A similar, and worse incident, was the text about a large influx of northerners into Lagos with nefarious intent. I didn’t get that text either, but I did get the text debunking it. I must commend the security services and whoever they partnered with in getting the word out. Still, how do we know the first wasn’t true and the second wasn’t a lie to deceive us? You see the problem? We are now in age where mass communication can be done anonymously with near impunity that can have all sorts of impact on our populace.

Which is why I am concerned about what our radio and TV broadcasters present. They are in the unique position of being able to instantly spread the word to counteract false information or become the unwittingly agents of a wildfire of misinformation. They need to know and use the tools available to get the right information into people’s hands when someone else is doing their best, whether maliciously or misguidedly, to rain acidic information on us all.


Photo courtesy of Eremi at