Going anywhere in Africa always energizes me. It surprises me. Challenges my assumptions. Gives me new ideas. And makes me smile. The week I just spent in Nairobi did all these things.
The main goal of my trip was to talk to people about the local content and simple appmaking work Mozilla is doing. I spent an evening talking with Mozilla community members, a day and a bit with people at Equity Bank and a bunch of time with people from iHub. Here are three of the many thoughts I had while reflecting on the flight home:
Microbusiness is our biggest opportunity for AppMaker
I talked to ALOT of people about the idea of non-techie smartphone users being able to make their own apps.
My main question was: who would want to make their own app rather than just use Facebook? Most of the good answers had to with someone running a very small business. A person selling juice to office workers who wastes alot of travel time taking orders. An up and coming musician who wants a way to pre-sell tickets to loyal fans using mobile money. A chicken farmer outside Nairobi who is always on the phone with the hotels she sells to (pic below, met her and her husband while on a trip with Equity Bank folks). The common thread: simple to make and remix apps could be very useful to very small real world businesses that would benefit from better communications, record keeping and transaction processing via mobile phone.
Our main priority with AppMaker (or whatever we call it) right now is to get a first cut at on-device authoring out there. In the background, we also really need to be pushing on use cases like these — and the kind of app templates that would enable them. Some people at the iHub in Nairobi have offered to help with prototyping template apps specific to Kenya over the next few months, which will help with figuring this out.
Even online is offline in much of Africa
As I was reminded at MozFest East Africa, even online is offline in much of Africa (and many other parts of the world). In the city, the cost of data for high bandwidth applications like media streaming — or running a Webmaker workshop — is expensive. And, outside the city, huge areas have connections that are spotty or non-existent.
It was great to meet the BRCK people who are building products to address issues like this. Specifically: BRCK is a ruggedized wifi router with a SIM card, useful I/O ports and local storage. Brainstorming with Juliana and Erik from iHub, it quickly became clear that it could be useful for things like Webmaker workshops in places where connectivity is expensive, slow or even non-existent. If you popped a Raspberry Pi on the side, you might even be able create a working version of Webmaker tools like Thimble and Appmaker that people could use locally — with published web pages and apps trickling back or syncing once the BRCK had a connection. The Kenyan Mozillians I talked to were very excited about this idea. Worth exploring.
People buy brands
During a dinner with local Mozillians, a question was raised: ‘what will it take for Firefox OS to succeed in Kenya?’ A debate ensued. “Price,” said one person, “you can’t get a $30 smartphone like the one Mozilla is going to sell.” “Yes you can!”, said another. “But those are China phones,” said someone else. “People want real phones backed by a real brand. If people believe Firefox phones are authentic, they will buy them.”
Essentially, they were talking about the tension between brand / authenticity / price in commodity markets like smartphones. The contention was: young Kenyan’s are aspiring to move up in the world. An affordable phone backed by a global brand like Mozilla stands for this. Of course, we know this. But it’s a good reminder from the people who care most about Mozilla (our community, pic below of Mozillians from Kenya) that the Firefox brand really needs to shine through on our devices and in the product experience as we roll out phones in more parts of the world.
I’ve got alot more than this rumbling around in my head, of course. My week in Uganda and Kenya really has my mind spinning. In a good way. It’s all a good reminder that the diverse perspectives of our community and our partners are one of our greatest strengths. As an organization, we need to tap into that even more than we already do. I truly believe that the big brain that is the Mozilla Community will be a key factor in winning the next round in our efforts to stand up for the web.