i-37c7119cbc90896e4e9d69d2e942ff5e-Black Looks logo.jpg

Mark Glaser is traveling this week, but we’re happy to have Sokari Ekine filling in as a special guest blogger. Ekine started the award-winning Black Looks blog in 2004, and covers challenging issues such as gender, sexuality and racism. Glaser will return to the blog next Monday.

Web 2.0 [is] a venture capitalist’s paradise where investors pocket the value produced by unpaid users, ride on the technical innovations of the free software movement and kill off the decentralizing potential of peer-to-peer production.”

Reading the quote above you get the feeling we are being seriously ripped off but still we all — well a good percentage of the world’s cyber addicts — continue to spend our days on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and all the copies from all corners of the globe including Africa.

The problem with Web 2.0 is that there are so many of the same. How many video sites or “social utility” sites can you possibly sign up to? If I am on Facebook do I also want to be on an “African” Facebook especially since most of my African friends are also on Facebook? And here lies the problem for Africa’s developers. Firstly creating something original and specific for African users. Secondly coming up with a copy that is customized to meet African needs and thirdly easing users away from the international sites.

Africa’s entry into the Web 2.0 market started about 18 months ago. A rough estimate puts the number of Web 2.0 tools and applications at between 60 and 70. South Africa dominates Web 2.0 with a plethora of online social networks with the usual blogging, video, photo and music features but there are a number of excellent online tools being developed in Kenya directed at specialist audiences.

I do think that is the way to go with Web 2.0.and two South African sites worth mentioning are ZoopedUp an automotive social network where you can create your own online garage again with the usual forums, videos, photo sharing and the not-so-common ride battles! Then there is Gay Peers , “an exclusive gay social network for the South African LGBT community. Judging from the forums and blogs on both sites these two are sure winners as both markets are huge. But as Soenke Zehle asks, is South Africa really representative of Africa?:

FOSSA’s Kagai notes that ICT developments in South Africa are not representative of Africa at large, and some see in the ideas of an ‘African Renaissance’ less a new Pan-Africanism than a mere culturalization of South Africa’s own economic and geopolitical ambition. Yet it would be a mistake to associate less well off areas of the continent with a lack of interest in digital and network technologies.

MamaMikes to Stocks Kenya

Enter the Kenyans — again. Not only are they dominating the blogosphere and using innovative tools for activism and social responsibility, they are creating innovative niche Web 2.0 applications. MamaMikes is an online shop that enables friends and family outside Kenya to purchase airtime, pay electricity bills, buy fuel, presents and much for people in Kenya. In other words a new way of sending remittances to Africa. If I want to send my aunt 5 UK pounds of airtime, I go online and make a simple transaction even choosing when I want the money to be sent.

Stocks Kenya, Peupe Net and The Cheetah Index are three finance/business sites. Peupe is still in the beta stage but it will be a social network and blogging platform for Kenyan businesses. The Cheetah Index is a more comprehensive and Pan African business site and part of the African Path group. Benin Mwangi Brown explains the idea and vision for the site:

The Cheetah Index is about empowering Africa’s current generation of decision makers which include entrepreneurs, managers, and policy makers by providing up-to-date news and information on business trends taking place throughout the African continent.

Although the response has been slow so far, Benin remains optimistic and intends to build a foundation for Africa’s small business community and is also considering a social entrepreneur section for the site. Finally Kabissa: Space for Change in Africa which has been hosting and managing domains for African civil society organizations for eight years has now relaunched into an online social network of civil society organizations. The potential for bloggers here is huge as there are over 1000 member organizations each with its own space for blogging as well as features for forming groups and forums all made possible by Drupal and CiviCRM.

i-cccc7b01e9c4cc773089085e2049439e-muti_news_map.jpg
Muti News Map

It’s not just Web 2.0 communities where Africans have been active. One of my favorites is Neville Newey’s News Map. Neville is the man behind Muti, Africa’s first social bookmarking site similar to Digg. He recently claimed another first in his development of an API for Muti called Muti Hooks. Africa’s number one tech blogger, Erik Hersman, sees APIs as the next step in Africa’s move into new technologies:

This is a big step in the right direction, and I hope that others follow suit. It means that we can start seeing mashups of African data mixed with the more familiar platforms like Google Maps and Flickr.

The real opportunity for Africa lies not so much with the Internet but with mobile phone technology. As I mentioned in my previous post, access and costs are still huge problems for the majority of people wanting to use the Internet. Mobile phone usage has grown by 800% over the past 7 years. Mobile phones are being used for everything from advocacy to campaigns, domestic violence hotlines, education and trade.

Tradenet — West African Agricultural Trade Network allows registered traders to buy and sell across the region using their mobile phones for transactions. They can set up profiles with photos of their commodities and join “commodity” groups. The site’s potential is huge and for the first time brings together traders from across a region which must be empowering for local traders.