The Red Flag is Up, Stop the Race

News from the conference room: this is a series of blog posts in which blogging experts briefly review key Tech4Africa 2010 talks and panels from Day 1 and 2.

Day 2

Many, if not most, large brands, especially non-consumer brands, should stay the hell away from Twitter and Facebook. In fact, says corporate digital guru Andy Hadfield, even commodity consumer brands like banks and cellphone companies should consider _not_ ‘joining the conversation’ on Facebook or Twitter. Because it’s not really a conversation. Conversations are between a person and a person, not between a person and an abstract organisational construct.

We’re clearly in a trough of disillusionment, those many of us in the social media industry who spent the past few years being very excited about the immense possibilities and unknowable future impact. We’re now stepping back, aghast at the monster we have created that is racing off in lots of directions: many pointless, some actively harmful to the online community we have a loyalty to.

Today, World+Dog is doing social media. It’s not that hard to set up social media sites, and the business of providing ‘social media solutions’ has exploded. R15k to set up a Facebook page for some sucker^h^h^h^h innovative and authentic company.

Those who’ve been doing it for a long time are putting up red flags. How about NOT doing it, they say?

Having a Facebook page is a panacea for nothing, commented Alistair Fairweather from M&G.

The bottom line is that people don’t love brands. They may love the product that a brand produces. They may simply use a brand’s product because the brand hasn’t pissed them off enough yet to move to a competitor.

The nub of the matter for the panel, after half an hour of fairly intense discussion and even argumentative tub-thumping, is that there is a fundamental contradiction that cannot be resolved as long as the marketing department is the start and the end of corporates involvement in social media. Mostly, so-called conversations online have little bearing on the product, on the customer support, on the supply chain, on the real world.

Basically, most of the top social media people in SA are honest, realistic, and well-intentioned. They are struggling to look a customer in the eye, knowing that the company makes a crap product and delivers half-baked service, but that wants to be ‘authentic and engaged’ online.

Social media is about conversations that people honestly care about. No care, no conversation. No honesty, no conversation.

Is this the SA social media industry putting the brakes on the hype, looking to inject some realism before too many brands do too many ill-considered, expensive and futile online campaigns? Before brand managers get so burned that it wreaks major damage the industry that is trying to sell them the snake oil?

Let’s hope so.

Roger Hislop
www.sentientbeing.co.za
@d0dja

Ushahidi: packing a powerful (and honest) punch

News from the conference room: this is a series of blog posts in which blogging experts briefly review key Tech4Africa 2010 talks and panels from Day 1 and 2.

Day 1

Who hasn’t heard about Ushahidi? That was the first question posed by Erik Hersman today. Astoundingly, about 30% of the crowd raised their hands. My first thought was sheer disbelief – They don’t know about Ushahidi? Where have they been?

I raised my eyebrows at Steve Vosloo who said – perhaps they’re mostly commercial companies; that’s why they don’t know anything about this small nonprofit that packs a powerful punch. The great thing is that after today’s session, a whole lot more people now know about Ushahidi – which, when you do learn more about it, is truly an incredible application.

Ushahidi defines itself as a small organization that dislikes hierarchy and being told what they can’t do, they question everything, embrace innovative thinking and take risks boldly. Their guiding values are openness, innovation, community.

When Ushahidi started, it went from concept to launch in a week. After the Kenyan elections on 27th December 2007, violence broke out in Kenyan communities unhappy about election results. A Kenyan blogger wrote “For the reconciliation process to occur at the local level, the truth of what
happened will first have to come out”. And that began a creative process among friends and colleagues that saw the launch of Ushahidi on the 9th January 2008. The Ushahidi Platform allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline.

From their successes, Erik shared some of what they learned in the process of setting it up:

* Keep focused (make ruthless, brutal decisions if you have to)
* Release early
* Do it yourself
* Community = success (if you can’t harness the community you won’t have success)
* Don’t wait for money, just do it

Erik hastened to add – remember that technology is only a tool. Some of Ushahidi’s biggest learning has come from failures – and they are open and willing to share this learning. Often we learn more from other
people’s mistakes than their achievements.

They learned that there’s a difference between building technology, and deploying technology. Experience taught them that building the technology itself is only about 10% of the issue – the other 90% is about building the community and messaging around the technology.

From their failures, they learned the following lessons:
* Own your failures
* Listen
* Fix your mistakes – and quickly
* Think differently but stay true to the spirit of your organization or community.

Erik’s overarching message was to remember these three things:

Technology does help in overcoming inefficiencies, but it takes people to make it happen.
More people need to ask the hard questions that challenge the status quo.
Africans can build world class software and we should expect nothing less.

Ushahidi – if you haven’t heard about it yet, check it out. And watch this space, this is just the beginning of what crowdsourcing information can do in Africa.

Samantha Fleming
http://tech4africa.com/speakers/#erikhersman
@afrosocialmedia

Web 2.0 at Tech4Africa

Are you interested in the Web 2.0 and its applications in Africa?

One of the key subjects of Tech4Africa is the social web, on which recognized international and local thinkers will share their knowledge and experiences. The focus will be on the state and potential of Web 2.0 in Africa.

Clay Shirky, one of Tech4Africa’s keynote speakers, talks about the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, while our other keynote speaker, Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress, certainly has something to say about collaborative platforms and publishing on the Web.

Moreover, leading African thinkers and practitioners will talk on There’s an elephant in the room. Embracing the new, social web, 6 Secrets to becoming a jQuery ninja”, How we redesigned a well known site, and why you need to know and Unobtrusive interfaces with Javascript. They will take attendees through what Web 2.0 and Social Media means for business and consumers, and what to do about it in Africa. More on them on the Speakers’ list.

Apart from Social Media and Web 2.0, many other relevant areas will be covered at Tech4Africa, like emerging technologies; mobile, wireless and cloud computing; entrepreneurship; search and marketing. Attendees will get a global perspective on the present and future of the technology in Africa. Check out our schedule to find talks interesting to you.

To complete the event, Tech4Africa offers two full days of workshops and will be hosting Seedcamp,  a micro seed fund to invest in startup companies, for the first time in Africa.

You can take advantage of a few options to sign up, from discounted tickets for early birds, to participating in draws for free tickets.

Hurry up and register now!