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Facebook Zero, feature phones and the ‘next billion’ users

ImageGraphic from the BBC and data from SocialBakers
On October 4th, 2012, Facebook passed the billion user mark. These users generated some 1.13 trillion ‘likes,’ 219 billion photos and 17 billion location check-ins. Launched in 2004, and well established in markets like North America and Europe, Facebook increasingly looks to places like Africa for the next billion users.

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It is no surprise there will be more mobile phones on the planet than people before the end of this year. Statistics released to coincide with the Facebook announcement revealed there were now 600 million users accessing the site via a mobile device – up 48 million from 552 million in June this year. That said, penetration is still relatively low in places like Asia and Africa – below 7 per cent in Asia and just over 5 per cent in Africa. This leaves plenty of potential users still to gain in these markets and clearly a mobile strategy is the future for the company.

In Africa, Facebook has targeted the use of basic phones known widely as ‘feature phones.’ They are unable to display the full-featured site, but instead can use specially created variations of the network. In May 2010, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Zero, a text-only version of Facebook that can be accessed at 0.facebook.com. In the 18 months after Facebook Zero launched in Africa, the number of Africans on Facebook grew by 165%. Certainly working directly with the telecom providers, and offering the service for free to users, has done a lot to spread the network.

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Looking to further expand its reach, Facebook took the next step when it acquired Snaptu last year for a reported 60-70 million USD. This strategic investment underpins the project called ‘Facebook for Every Phone.’ Snaptu specializes in enabling the development of apps for low-cost feature phones. Their cloud based application approach means their apps work on more than 2,500 devices, indeed many of the feature phones that can be found across the continent.

As the company looks to reach the next billion users we can assume there will be a continued focus on Africa.

Mxit, the 800 pound Gorilla that is Africa’s largest social network

Paul Stemmet of World Of Avatar, an African focused tech investor, gave a presentation at Mobile Web East Africa (Hashtag: #MWEA2012). In addition to his launch of Shinka.sh – a mobile ad network, he clearly wanted to highlight the jewel in their crown, the obviously popular MxIt. The site now has some 50M users, supports over 3500 different mobile devices (they are planning to make it open platform), and processes round 750 million messages daily. Out of 50 million registered users, 12,500,000 are active, making Mxit truly the biggest African Mobile Social network.

It’s no surprise to see new ventures come online with the ambition to tap into a similar opportunity. One example is Saya Mobile, a Ghanian tech startup that recently emerged from the MEST program. They recently unveiled a mobile chat app they hope will rival the likes of BBM, ZiNG … and of course the 800 pound Gorilla Mxit.

Africa’s revolution coming to you on twitter

Africa's revolution in one tweet

If you haven’t seen this yet, here is a great insight into the development of Twitter in Africa. The recent events in Egypt, and across the N.African region, have shown us what coming levels of connectivity can bring about. Youth connected can change the world?

Here were some facts from the Portland report:

· South Africa is the continent’s most active country by volume of geo-located Tweets, with over twice as many Tweets (5,030,226 during Q4 2011) as the next most active Kenya (2,476,800). Nigeria (1,646,212), Egypt (1,214,062) and Morocco (745,620) make up the remainder of the top five most active countries.

· 57% of Tweets from Africa are sent from mobile devices.

· 60% of Africa’s most active Tweeters are aged 20-29.

· Twitter in Africa is widely used for social conversation, with 81% of those polled saying that they mainly used it for communicating with friends.

· Twitter is becoming an important source of information in Africa. 68% of those polled said that they use Twitter to monitor news. 22% use it to search for employment opportunities.

· African Twitter users are active across a range of social media, including Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Read the report in full detail.

VC4Africa and the emergence of an African startup culture

Want to know more about VC4Africa and our work to support starting entrepreneurs? Here is a presentation we recently recorded. I outline some of the recent trends and developments we are witnessing in the space and some of our thinking on how we can do more to support the emergence of an African startup culture.

VC4Africa Infographic, 2012 the year of Entrepreneurship in Africa

VC4A 2012 Infographic

We have been wanting to produce some visuals for some time now and it was fun to see this project come together for the start of the new year. Instead of some card with a bunch of happy faces we thought we would visualize a trend we strongly believe in. We witness and champion a general shift of attention that we hope will see more focus placed on the continent’s entrepreneurs. Really the most underrated change agent if you ask me.

The infographic starts with some background on VC4Africa and where the community is at in terms of its development. We then follow the introduction with statistics that give a strong indication of just how fast things are actually changing on a fundamental level. We highlight the challenges we still need to face concerning some of the resource constraints (human and capital) and answer this challenge with our peer-to-peer driven network approach we feel is a viable way to start filling the gaps.

This graphic was done in partnership with our designer Joppe Rovers. Check out his website. Also see a higher quality version of the VC4A Infographic – 2012 the year of the Entrepreneur (280KB).