Google in Africa

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Google is Moving in East Africa

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White African

7 Month old Google Kenya is starting to interact with the local hackers and devs. Just this Tuesday they sponsored the local Tuesday Skunkworks event, giving some of their thoughts on Kenya specifically. My friend, and fellow Kenyan blogger, Bankelele was in attendance and took notes.

Highlights. Google is…

* Mapping Kenya
* Partnering with the largest mobile carrier (Safaricom) and giving free email accounts to all subscribers
* Partnering with universities to make inroads with their web-based office applications and associated services
* Encouraging local content providers to get online (ex: NTVKenya on YouTube)
* Fighting for more bandwidth for all Kenyans
* Working with legislatures to create the right atmosphere to get the right internet infrastructure

Read the rest, and get more detail, on Bankelele’s blog.

It’s interesting to see how Google continues to look at new markets and move ahead in them, without any real profit there yet. Meanwhile, their main competition on the global level on the web (Yahoo!), doesn’t. Interestingly enough, Yahoo has had the mindshare and marketshare in East Africa, but didn’t capitalize on it. They basically left the door open for Google to come in and steal it all away… and they are.


Written by aheavens

March 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm

Skunkworks: Nairobi March 4

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A Skunkworks (blog) meeting yesterday was hosted by (7 month old) Google Kenya, and it was attended by an interesting mix of engineers, webhosts, designers, admins, bloggers and rivals of Google, – who all listened as Google employees explained their aps and maps.

some scribbled notes

– There’s an ongoing Google East Africa competition for students to develop gadgets for Google (closes March 17)
– They are mapping the country with Google map’s – started with Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, with a Kenyan team, doing the mapping work, using the tools. Ideally the next step will be for maps to stream into local yellow pages
– Safaricom have the largest customer base of any kind in Kenya – 8 million strong – and so Google partnered with them to give all their subscribers free e-mail. Many people’s introduction was and still remains, accessing an email account.
– Ushaidi was cited as an examples of enhanced use of a Google platform
– Google in Africa for the long term, with an altruistic motive of sharing local content & information – and currently get less than 1% of revenue from Africa. They helped NTV set up a Youtube platform that has been a big success in terms of Kenyans abroad now able to watch local news online. They monetize in three ways – videoads, adsense, search box advertising. Kenya/Africa needs to get more local content up. Already some local web sites are making good money off adsense that is enough to sustain their online operations.
– Hot point #1 was bandwidth; or the performance of connectivity, service providers and other operators. They are known in the industry for short-changing consumers who are not wary and in the face of a regulator (CCK) who does not seem to care. There was a call for users to take the initiative, to test bandwidth speeds, and identify those with superior speeds and those who were short-changing consumers (a model from Australia called Whirlpool to test broadband was mentioned as a model that could be used to do this)
– Hot point # 2 was the lack of investment in infrastructure/or the wrong kind of investment. Examples: There are 4 ethernet cables in Nairobi, but no cooperation between providers. Government is building data centers, but with no servers there. Local loops are not benefiting end users. It would be nice of government required new building developers to also install connectivity in buildings
– Other challenges with local advertising – does it work? Yahoo never advertised in Kenya; yet have more e-mail accounts through word of mouth. Google is working with universities to give them free e-mail as a way of building a long term relationship. There’s also a move to alert local advertising companies to the presnce of local site to advertise on.

There were many other conversations but they were drowned out by sounds of mouths slurping pizza slices and mshikaki’s.

Written by aheavens

March 4, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Kenya: Google Appoints Wananchi’s Mucheru to Head Up its New Operation

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Balancing Act (London)

Google is moving outside of the continental comfort zones for most global investors, North and South Africa, and is opening its first operation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya has been chosen as the base camp for what is likely to turn into a sub-regional business. It has chosen Joseph Mucheru, former CEO of Wananchi to be its Site Lead- Kenya and although he has barely got his feet under the desk, Russell Southwood spoke to him about what Google might be doing, infrastructure initiatives and Kenya’s media and communications bills.

Q: With more competitive markets in Kenya, it’s an exciting time for anyone in the telecoms and Internet markets there. So why did you leave Wananchi?

Strategically, Wananchi is going into building infrastructure. There’s no denying there’s a huge need for it but I’ve always had a passion for content and applications. In the past, I’ve always been dragged into infrastructure to support my web business.

Also this is the first time an international content player like Google has entered this market and it’s very exciting. And this is another reason I’ve chosen to work with them.

Q: So what’s Google want to do?

Initially there will be three big things. Firstly, we want to optimise the use of Google applications in the region. We already have a lot of customers in the region but further development of the market is hindered by the absence of an international cable offering cheap bandwidth. Google understands that this is an impediment and is willing to go to the extent of buying international bandwidth that locals don’t have to pay the current considerable premium they are.

The second thing they want to develop is their Maps product to make sure it has local information that is searchable and useful.

The third thing is using Google advertising in ways that can help monetize local content. Lots of people have done local content but most times it’s flopped. We hope to show that there’s a way of doing advertising that can support content. If we can do this, it will generate jobs and work.

But I should say clearly that I’ve only been with the company a week….

Q: So what’s your role?

I’ll be the Site Lead – Kenya and will lead a whole team. I’ll be involved in facilitating all the initiatives going on in the area.

The company is massive but works in small teams. So I’ll help determine what can be done and be pro-active about making it happen which means I’ll be acting in an entrepreneurial way.

Q: I hear that Google is also interested in policy issues?

Google has an interest in what’s happening in terms of policy and has a policy team and they want to have someone in every region. Their concern is to ensure that when policy is made that it benefits all of mankind. So it is willing to support someone who will participate in policy debates. So for example, here in Kenya, that person might look at the media and communications bills and Google would be able to lend its support and bring in its experience of these issues from elsewhere.

Q: So as a Kenyan what do you personally make of these two pieces of legislation?

I’ve looked at the Communications Bill and I think that there are certain things that would be disastrous, particularly for e-commerce. For example, it says that you will need to get a licence to get a sub-domain and this cuts right across existing global practice. The second thing is that the Bill says that certification authorities must have licences. In effect, it’s saying that for Verisign to be recognised it must get a licence from CCK.

Q: What issues are there with the media bill?

There’s an issue in terms of the registration and deregistration of journalists. I’m happy that’s what being suggested would work with the current Government but it would be a great deal less good under a bad Government.

Q: How will journalists be registered?

The Government will decide on the basis of qualifications and writing if an individual will get a licence to practice as a journalist. There must be a way of monitoring standards but something more like a Media Council needs to be set up to monitor the licensing. Something more like the Law Society of Kenya in relation to lawyers. This would have an independent board but the Government might have a single seat but would be equal to everybody else on that board.

Q: I understand that there are also some definitional difficulties with the legislation?

Yes, it defines broadcasting as anything that is broadcast speech like radio and moving pictures like television. Currently whether this applies to something like You Tube is very vague.

Also on a separate issue, the regulator is required to determine the content of the programming code. We can’t expect CCK to do that. We need to be able to review these issues so they don’t become monumental.

Written by aheavens

June 11, 2007 at 3:03 pm