Thursday, October 28, 2010

Introducing Google Baraza

Yesterday, Google launched its newest Africa-centered product in Ghana, and I had the opportunity to play an active role in the festivities. Google Baraza is a community-based Q&A service that was created specifically for the African continent. As I've outlined in my previous posts on Google's strategy in Africa, one of the big obstacles to a thriving Internet ecosystem in Africa is the lack of locally relevant content. Baraza lets African users work around this issue by posing their questions  directly to other Africans and encouraging a community of users who both provide and acquire value from the product. At this point, you're probably wondering what makes Baraza special/different from all the other Q&A services out there, why the name Baraza, and most importantly, what sort of launch activities I got to participate in yesterday.

At the most basic level, what differentiates Baraza from other services is that it's created specifically for the African market. Whereas most questions a Westerner would want to know are only a Google search away, the same just isn't true for Africans. But more than that, Baraza has some interesting features that make it a more compelling product than other similar offerings. First of all, the entire site is based on a currency of points. You get points by answering questions and you spend points to ask. What's more, you get extra points if the community determines that your answer is good. Unlike other products, this forces members of the community to give as well as take. In addition, there is the concept of reputation where someone who consistently gives good answers earns a spotlight on the site. Both of these features create a strangely addictive user experience that has me wishing I knew more about Accra so I could answer more questions myself.

Why the name? Baraza is actually a Swahili word and it means "council" or "task-force". Since Swahili is the most widely spoken African language, it seemed like an appropriate choice.

And finally, my own exploits. Yesterday afternoon, my new colleague, Juliana, and I went down to one of Accra's most prominent cyber cafes, Busy Internet, formerly run by Google's own Estelle Akofio-Sowah, and got people using the product. As part of the launch push, Google was sponsoring free browsing, and simultaneously, running a radio show on Accra's top station, Joy FM, featuring local celebrities like our Estelle answering questions that had been posted to the site. Well about an hour in, Juliana got a call, and the two of us had a radio cameo on the show being broadcast to the masses of Ghanaians stuck in traffic (a very substantial part of Ghanaian life, unfortunately). It was pretty cool to hear our voices on the radio a few minutes later, but really, just another day in this crazy, extraordinary, borderline ridiculous job. I'm looking forward to see how all of Ghana reacts to this new service.

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