Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our Strategy in Africa

First of all, full disclosure, everything I discuss in this series of posts has been approved for external dissemination by the PR folks at Google, so you're not getting any insider information from me. That said, obviously this comes with my own personal commentary, so that's something! The plan is to write four posts about Google's objectives and strategies in Africa; this first one will be a general overview and the next three will be deep dives into each of the obstacles we're seeking to overcome. Here goes...

Why is Google in Africa? Most people in most African countries don't use credit cards or have bank accounts, the two ways a consumer might pay for advertising, so it clearly isn't about making money (yet, at least). So what is it? Simply put, Google is serious about Africa, and our strategy is to get users online by developing an accessible, relevant, and sustainable Internet ecosystem. We reason that the more people using the Internet, the more people will be using Google products. And so we want to make the Internet an integral part of African life. But to do that we have to overcome some extremely nontrivial obstacles, chiefly accessibility, relevance, and sustainability.


In order to develop a thriving Internet ecosystem in Africa, one of our chief goals is to help overcome the barrier most Africans have to accessing the Internet. You would be shocked to find out how much it costs for a good Internet connection in Africa. Despite some increases in competition, telecom providers are still charging exorbitant rates for service, and while there's not an awful lot we can do on this front, we do our best encourage more open markets. Furthermore, we design products like Google Health Tips that use mobile technology and SMS to deliver services more affordably to the masses. (This is some of the stuff I work on!) We're also doing our best to minimize latency (i.e. load time, time it takes to respond) for products in areas with extremely weak connections. This is a serious technical challenge, but it's one that Google is dedicated to working on.


It shouldn't surprise you that there is frightfully little content on the Internet that is relevant to Africans. Why would there be with so few Africans online? And so we have the chicken and the egg. If the Internet isn't useful to Africans, there's not much incentive to use it, and without many people using it, the Internet's not going to become very useful. That's where we come in (this is my main focus). We seek to facilitate the creation of relevant African content, both by enabling translation from more common Internet languages to local dialects such as Wolof and by making it easier for Africans to create their own relevant content such as local maps. At the most basic level, we're trying to solve fundamentally African problems for African people.


The final barrier we need to overcome is sustainability. Once it's off the ground, the Internet ecosystem in Africa has to be able to carry itself. So how do we accomplish this? In one word: outreach. We've been holding conferences all around Africa for students, software developers, and business owners, spreading the word about how the Internet, and Google products, can help them become more effective, efficient, and successful. What's more, we've been reaching out to universities, providing low-cost laptops, facilitating broadband access, helping raise the level of computer science curriculums, and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.

We believe that if we can help Africa overcome these hurdles, there's no end to the potential for the Internet ecosystem here. And so we march on. We may not see results for some time to come, but true to Google's nature, we're interested in a lot more than just short-term gains.

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In unrelated news, I got my business cards the other day. They make me happy.

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