The following is post 2 of 3 in an interview series put together by guest writer Josiah Filler on mobile solutions in South Africa. Please refer to the first post here. Josiah had a chance to sit down with Praekelt Foundation’s Chief Engineer, Simon de Haan and here is what transpired:
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: How do to people access the “Young Africa Live” portal you developed?
Simon: It’s running on Vodafone Live, which is the portal for everyone who’s got a Vodacom branded phone here. Whenever they launch their browser, that’s the first site.
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: And how does it work? What kind of content do you have on “Young Africa Live”?
Simon: It’s for free to access for anyone with a Vodacom SIM. So everyday there’s four articles on there, all around categories like love, sex, and relationships. It’s just short articles with a punch line at the bottom that will trigger a conversation or comments. We’re seeing an incredible uptake, like over 2,000 comments being placed per day on our articles. It was launched last year the first of December on World AIDS Day and by now we’re the biggest youth portal in South Africa with this focus. It’s been exciting. I think there are over and close to 700 articles now that have been written.
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: What are some of the challenges you face with the solutions you build?
Simon: There’s a challenge obviously, moderation-wise, like how do you deal with the volume of all these comments coming in? How do you encourage a good and healthy community discussion? White-listing all bad words is impossible. Since the portal is all around sex, domestic violence, AIDS awareness, censorship just doesn’t work.
It’s also really hard to find solid partners to work with on location in these countries because a lot of it is very ad hoc and not as robust as we like it to be. We are trying to build a really strong platform to reach millions of people in Africa. Yet, for the bottom of the pyramid in Africa a lot of what we are building on is not so robust all the time. As long as you’re aware of that and expect that things are going to go wrong, then it’s okay.
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: How are you able to reach the bottom of the pyramid with a technology solution like this?
Simon: It has to be free to the end user. Someone obviously has to pay but not the end user.
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: What are some of the upcoming innovative ideas you have in store?
Simon: For the first of December, we’re starting with some new stuff like the ability to run a quiz on HIV awareness to test your knowledge about HIV. The other day I was preparing that and reading through some of the HIV facts that will be posted on that portal.
Josiah, Rising Pyramid: And how do you incent the users to go to your portal?
Simon: It’s pretty interesting; we run these competitions with airtime as an incentive. As people participate in the competition they are educated about the topics of the portal, love, sex and relationships in the time of Aids.
To be continued…check back next Tuesday for post 3 of 3 in which Josiah and Simon discuss innovative features that Praekelt has developed with mobile operators to deliver an impact in South Africa.