What users are doing with mobile devices in Africa: Insights from Google, Native and Motribe

By: Mongezi Mtati

The first panel this morning had Nic Haralambous (Motribe),  Jason Xenopoulos (Native) and Brett St. Clait (Google) who took an in depth look at the growth and usage of mobile devices in Africa. Their focus from the user, as opposed to a business perspective.

Take-outs from the panel

Nic Haralambous (Motribe)

  • People do not necessarily want to connect on mobile as they do in real life.

Nic cites that most people who use Motribe do so to experiment with, and grow personalities that other platforms don’t allow.

  • The success of mobile platforms lies in increasing users and rapidly increasing activity.
  • Questions to ask when starting a mobile campaign:
  1. Do you want users to register?
  2. Do you want them to buy? @nicharry #T4A #t4amobi

Most companies do not set clear objectives when taking off with campaigns that have a mobile element.

Jason Xenopoulos (Native)

  • The power of brands has shifted from being owned by business, to now being owned by the consumer.

Jason emphasized how the social web has allowed consumers to express their views and own brands online.

  • Mobile can be used as a powerful marketing tool, if looked at from a user perspective.
  • Unless you are adding value, you are interrupting the consumer.
  • Data on its own is useless, it’s insight that can be extracted from data that matters.

Brett St. Clair (Google)

  • Entertainment drives innovation in mobile.
  • More people book their hotel accommodation using their mobile phones, at times 30-50 kilometres from the venues. This localizes search and makes it more contextual.
  • Google search spikes tend to correlate with radio and TV ads.

In closing, the speakers agree that data can unlock the potential of brands in mobile, but very few brands are using the data Africa.

Keynote: Josh Spear on social media FTW!

By: Heidi Schneigansz

Josh Spear likes to say he is ‘from the internet’. He is a digital nomad in the true sense of the word. He spends most of his time travelling around the world – he has literally visited 12 countries in the last 30 days!

He started his keynote with a little bit about him: He once told his parents he wanted to ‘sell ideas’. So, in his freshman year of college, he started a blog, within a few months, advertisers came flooding in. This led to an investigation about digital marketing and what success looks like, which in turn led to the birth of his digital consulting company. Undercurrent strives to solve complex business problems with a digital worldview. He’s consulted to some of the largest companies in the world and they listen to him because he believes the Internet is not about technology, it’s about human beings.

He is obviously one of those, he actually danced around the stage to a video of a ginger cat playing a keyboard FFS! Josh taught a room full of Internet geeks about the origins of the memes we spend our days sharing. And then he Rickrolled us.

I, for one, didn’t know just how influential 4chan is. I knew what it was, I just didn’t know what it’s done for us. Apart from the obvious LOLCATZ, 4chan represents the zeitgeist of the connected world. And that’s scary.

Spear says that sites like 4chan prove that the web must change the way we communicate and market, that getting excited about a 1% click-through rate on a banner campaign is getting excited about a 99% failure rate.

The average person has so much media being thrown at us everyday that we have effectively become air traffic controllers of information. Are we even absorbing anything anymore? We need to stop and ask “OMG, who am I? Why am I here? What have I become?” Imagine a whole world of people who have grown up taking the technology that overwhelms us today for granted? How should we be communicating to the future captains of industry?

According to Josh, “disruption is the only path to success”. Do things differently, cut through the crap and communicate to people the way they communicate with each other. There are rules and norms of the world that can’t be understood unless you participate. Companies need to realise that people drive culture, not brands or advertising, that digital is about shared interests and people aren’t one dimensional.

I wish Josh Spear wasn’t getting on a plane tonight to New York. I wish he would stay and teach this to big brands in Africa. We need it.

HTML 5, the darling of the Open Web

By: Heidi Schneigansz

The Tech stream of day 2 of Tech4Africa kicked off with a mind-expanding session about the one thing on everyone’s lips (and some people’s t-shirts); HTML5. The new messiah of markup languages was described by MC, Toby Shapshak, as; ‘a handy thing with which to build the Internet”.

Our speaker was Robert Nyman, who works with Mozilla in Sweden. Mozilla are the champions of the open web and have recently launched innovations like BrowserID, a single sign-on that will work on all modern browsers, including recent versions of IE, and on mobile browsers.

Despite the fact that I’m more of a ‘mouth’ than a coder, Nyman managed to teach even me more about HTML5. He explained that it is spilt into:

1. Semantics
In this version of markup, the tags are more specific, simplifying code and cutting out elements which are not needed to streamline the way browsers render pages.
HTML5 aims to become the ‘one language to rule them all’ by offering standard code for common elements that previously relied on complicated Javascript, things like sliders, calendars etc.

HTML5, at it’s core, is making the web easier and faster.

If you want to know more, go to http://HTML5doctor.com, it lists all the elements within the specification.

2. APIs
According to Nyman, there are over 100 specifications already, and growing by the second.

It was at this point of the presentation that my brain started short-circuiting. Nyman is just too smart. So, I Googled it. Wikipedia says some of the APIs available are:

  • The canvas element for immediate mode 2D drawing
  • Timed media playback
  • Offline storage database (offline web applications)
  • Document editing
  • Drag-and-drop
  • Cross-document messaging
  • Browser history management
  • MIME type and protocol handler registration
  • Microdata

Since HTML5 is the new darling of the web, there are already hundreds of thousands of resources online. So, who should you trust? According to Nyman, these are the ‘daddies’ of sites to learn about HTML5:


And for the lovers of Flash? Well, don’t worry, you’re not dinosaurs, doomed to extinction just yet. Nyman explains that HTML5 supporters who say “Flash must die!” are shortsighted, we should look to Flash for inspiration, rather thinking that one technology should replace each other.

Despite the fact that the session made me feel a bit stupid, it inspired me and made me think about the possibilities HTML5 offers. I almost want to tell all the devs I work with to rebuild all our sites in it. I must remember the words of Nyman though; “HTML5 is about being pragmatic, about building on top of the things we already have, rather than reinventing the wheel over and over again‚ what’s important is that you dare to do anything, failing is OK.

Where are all the young black tech entrepreneurs in South Africa?

By Mongezi Mtati

Disclaimer: This is by no means a racial post, or one that separates people in the tech space by race. There are quite a lot of innovative products that are built in Africa for the African context and Tech 4 Africa is proof thereof.

But it is

While having a chat with one of the delegates at Tech 4 Africa, after the start-ups pitched for the $5000 grand prize, it became evident that we do not know many black tech entrepreneurs. Both of us attend a fair number of events, at least we think do, and are quite active in the social web. We hardly ever see young black entrepreneurs building useful platforms.

Is it access?

During the conversation, one of the possibilities we considered was access to events and platforms. As I said earlier, we both use and met on the social web, which minimizes the lack of access to information. Most of the people we met at Tech 4 Africa and other social technology events; we met through Twitter and Facebook.

One of the things cited was lack of education, where the assumption is that most enterprising South African minds do not study technology. In most instances, when we read articles about technologists, the same people are mentioned. When we spoke with Lebogang Nkoane, it turned out that we only know two people.

The burning questions

There is a possibility that most black South African technologists and developers work at blue chip companies and never attend community events. Do they?

We also thought that there aren’t enough communities that expose emerging local talent and those minds go unnoticed. Is this the case? If so, why don’t we at least hear about them?

We may be networking within closed groups that allow only the people we know to flourish. Should that be the case, how do we find out what is happening outside our immediate network?

Do you know some emerging start-ups that are new and promising? It would be interesting to see what the possibilities are, and how they intend to positively change the local and African technology landscape.

It may just be lack of information, in which case I would really like to hear your thoughts.

Build and sell for Africa: Snapshot of Herman Chinery-Hesse’s talk

By: Mongezi Mtati

Ghanaian entrepreneur, who I can easily call one of Africa’s leading minds in technology and business, Herman Chinery-Hesse blew away the Tech 4 Africa audience. Unlike most conference speakers, Herman Chinery-Hesse entered with a piece of paper as his talk and described it as doing things African-style.

Apart from known as Africa’s Bill Gates, Herman Chinery-Hesse co-founded, among others,  SOFTtribe limited, one of Africa’s leading software houses. He has built and developed technology startups and does so for the African context. He asserts that African entrepreneurs should build for the market and build partnerships with companies that offer services to compliment theirs.

Here are some are key points from his talk:

  • With the rise of the web, they had to reinvent themselves.

He described that the rise of the web led to how software can be managed remotely, without selling and managing it for different branches.

  • The average African had no way to sell products to customers abroad, they built a product that acts as an international shopping mall.
  • The root of Africa’s poverty lies in the inability to sell their products to international customers.
  • Selling products in Africa requires that you also package them for Africa.

Most large companies develop solutions that do not meet Africa’s needs, and in most instances, African businesses are small and want a solution that suits them.

  • When you have the technology, rolling it out makes borders irrelevant.
  • Building for the African, or any, market requires experimentation and adapting to what the market wants.
  • It is no longer about programming, but the model you build around products.
  • It is no longer about the tech, it is now about what people want to buy. They are not techies.

Questions from the audience:

  1. In your view, what are some of the most important reasons to use the cloud in Africa?
    1. Europe and U.S don’t have power failures, Africa does.
    2. Bandwidth limitations.
  1. Would you sell your African company to a non-African buyers?
    1. Yes, but we want Africa to own the majority.

Herman Chinery-Hesse cited a lot of very relevant reasons and needs that can only be solved with African technology solutions.

What are your thoughts on where Africa can contextualise technology?

Tech4Africa 2 opens with a BANG!

By: Heidi Schneigansz

After the phenomenal success of last year’s event, expectations for Tech4Africa 2011 were high, and if the opening by Gareth Knight is anything to go by, T4A 2011 is going to be a cracker.

Who else opens a conference by sending a few tweets on a giant screen, simply because he wants to thank the people who made the conference happen? When he followed this by a slide that simply said <t4a>Welcome!</t4a> we knew that we were at a tech event for true lovers of tech and what it can do on the African continent. In fact, since Tech4Africa, it has reached out to over 150 countries in a year. Gareth wrapped up by saying “Tweet for Africa, let your networks know that we’re here and that we’re here to make a difference.”

Next up, the famed ‘Greek Geek of 702’, Aki Anastasiou introduced Derek Wilcocks, MD of Internet Solutions, who admitted that he’s a digital immigrant that is awed by how the world is changing in ways that people are battling to come to grips with.  According to Wilcocks, this year the Internet hit over a zetabyte of traffic. I can’t even begin to fathom what a zetabyte is?! 34GB of content a day is now going into the average US household, which is tantamount to 50 CDs worth of data.

But it’s not just about consumers, the machine-to-machine bandwidth used in the last 12 months exceeded user initiated bandwidth use this year. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Ford and Tesco are using automated analytics to adapt their stock levels and marketing within hours of a major event that affected their business.

Wilcocks showed the audience how companies around the world are adopting web-based technology to recruit digital natives, sell and market their products more efficiently and better their customer service. What was interesting was that the biggest innovations are not being made by tech companies but by the ‘old-school’ trucking, cement and logistics businesses. I can only hope that the South African corporates in the audience are listening so innovation can start coming out of Africa, rather than being just adopted by her.

As Wilcocks said, “Collaboration, Community and The Cloud are reshaping the world… we really need to think about how they can change consumers, entrepreneurs and the public sector in Africa, now.”

Top 8 Samsung Ignite start-ups announced

Eight local technology start-ups have been offered a unique opportunity to pitch their business ideas to delegates, potential investors and media at this year’s Tech4Africa conference, taking place at The Forum in Bryanston, Johannesburg on 27 and 28 October.

This platform has been created by virtue of Samsung Ignite, an initiative that aims to showcase and foster local technology development, and which has been made possible by Samsung Apps store, in association with Tech4Africa. In the words of Gareth Knight, our founder and MD, “this platform allows local technology innovators to showcase their ideas to a broad audience, potential investors and technology entrepreneurs who have walked this path before”.

Tech4Africa’s primary aim is to promote and inspire local mobile and web innovators, entrepreneurs and developers by inviting global leaders in the sector to share their knowledge and insight with an audience from across the continent. The Samsung Ignite programme is an integral part of the overall conference’s vision that it is hoped will provide the spark that the eight start-ups need to take the next step in their development.

The 8 selected startups include:

10Layer: the most feature-complete, competent and customisable open source content management system for serious publishers and media houses.

FeedbackRocket.com: which offers an innovative online solution to obtain useful, insightful and honest feedback.

iSign.pro: that allows users to get legally-binding contracts signed in minutes – legally, cheaper, greener and stored forever, with automatic reminders before renewal/expiry.

Lessfuss: is an affordable South African personal assistant service that helps you save time and get things done for as little as R30/task.

Mobiflock: is a product range that consists of a parental control service, a personal smartphone tracker, and a corporate smartphone manager.

Plot my Ride: is a social networking service for the cycling community that offers an easy and real-time means of capturing, displaying, saving and sharing a cyclist’s riding activity.

Real Time Wine: captures the supermarket wine-buying audience and empowers them to discover, review, engage with and buy wine using smartphone apps, game mechanics & barcode scanning.

SnapBill: is an automated billing system that allows users to easily sell their services online.

“We are very passionate about the African market and encouraged by the innovations emerging from the continent, so it’s a natural fit for us to partner with Tech4Africa to present this stage for innovators to showcase their products,” says Brett Loubser, B2C Apps Development Lead at Samsung. “We intend using this partnership to help create a wider network of local developers, reward African innovation in the mobile tech and app space and promote the Samsung Apps Store as an alternative channel for smartphone developers”. Loubser added: “A key outcome of our participation as the Ignite partner is to engage South African developers and therefore we have made available a number of discounted tickets to facilitate their involvement at this year’s conference.”

The Samsung Ignite participants will each be afforded five minutes to showcase their products in the main auditorium at the end of the first day of the conference. A panel of judges has been gathered to adjudicate and the winning startup will be announced on the second day of the event, and be given the opportunity to present their start-up to the entire Tech4Africa audience. The winner will also receive the latest Samsung mobile devices and valuable exposure and profiling through the Tech4Africa website.