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.”

A few days ago, someone replied to my comment and I was surprised at their perspective:

“I find people who claims that African social media have to give something more than the competition not sincere. The same people have Linkedin accounts, Facebook accounts and may be Mysapace. If you look at all these so called international social media, you find out they now look a like trying to do all most the same thing. I don't hear people compalaining that Linkedin now almost look like Facebook, i don't hear people compalining that Hi5 is copying Myspace. Why double standards? Why is it that when come to Africa social media then they have to give more and nothing is said of the international Social media who are copying each other left right and center? Check out

He or she is entitled to his or her opinion, but I believe the thinking is flawed and my response was so comprehensive that I decided it was worth reproducing here below and serving as a prelude to my Clone Wars series:

You miss my point which is I am going to use a social site (or any site) because it gives me features that I want or I find some other reason to like it, not just because of the origin of its creators or where their servers are located. I use Facebook and LinkedIn, but I don't use MySpace, Hi5 or Orkut. I use Twitter, but I don't use Gistcaster. I use rather than, tinyurl or The other day someone tried to convince me to use simply because it is African. I resisted on the basis that I wasn't sure that it would give me the features I wanted. After being told that it had APIs that could be used to extend it, I decided to give it a try only to find out that it was offline - and remained so for at least another 24 hours. So if I had a business (and my blog can be called my business) that relied on short urls and was using or had used its APIs in an application, then for more than 24 hours my system would have been usable.

I am not holding African sites to a higher standard that foreign sites, I am holding them to the same standard. Many African sites are entering to spaces where there are already foreign sites that are huge. I don't expect a Nigerian site to be able to challenge Facebook head on in terms of size and feature set on day one. I do expect them to give me a compelling reason to use their service. For the social networking sites in particular, one of the things they offer as an incentive is actually a disincentive - which is their user base is local, i.e Nigerian. I call it a disincentive because I don't see why I should move to a site that is targeted only at Nigerians when Facebook has more Nigerians using it, and I can reach Kenyans, Cameroonians, South Africans, Ugandans, Americans, Chinese people and most other people (nearly 500 million) in the world. I know of one business that has built one social network for Nigerians, is building another for Cameroonians and who knows what other silo they are going to want to build for another country?

Lets talk from the perspective of technologies. How many of them give me analytics? Easy advertising capability? A development platform? The equivalent of a Facebook connect that allows me to use them as an authentication mechanism? Data portability? What are their SLAs? What swayed me to even think about using is the fact that they had an API. Just for the sake of promoting a fellow African's tool I'm thinking of developing a Chrome extension, a bookmarklet and possibly more tools using their APIs. Incidentally I use, I'm registered with GatorPeeps (the only Blog Aggregator my blog is registered with by the way), and my blogroll on my site includes 4 non-African blogs and 3 African blogs. I have supported and continue to support the growth of the African tech industry on my blog. In particular, the African iPad series calls for the development of an African product over the use and adoption of the Apple product.

I want to know how my perspective lacks sincerity? If anything, I would suggest a mentality that demands we use something just because it is from "our own people" is the faulty one because it refuses to hold us to a rigorous quality standard and insists on nepotism as a basis of selection. This is the basis for the so-called "federal character" policy in Nigeria that insists on ethnic or regional representation in government whether or not the people have the ability to do the work well or not.

I really think the person is misguided in their opinion. However, I throw myself upon the mercy of the court. Do you thing my perspective is a valid or should African web products be held to a different set of standards when evaluating their attractiveness than their internationally renown competitors?


Clone Wars poster courtesy of and is almost certainly the property of LucasFilm.