You’ve heard of Facebook … but have you heard of Boogiebuzz, Yookos or the money making 3AL social site? They’re Africa’s attempts at social platforms. While the continent is finding great success when it comes to apps, how about social and digital platforms that transform the way the world interacts online. Could Africa be the birthplace of the next Facebook?

What started out as a social experiment posting and judging juxtaposed photographs by Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends in 2003, has grown into a multi-billion dollar social network website and global phenomenon which despite its stuttering IPO launch, has emerged as the largest tech stock IPO to date.

It’s strategy has been sound – Facebook’s ability to pick up on high-growth markets like digital photography and photo-sharing means that its offering is constantly growing. In May the company purchased the photo-sharing app Instagram and media reports spoke of negotiations over a possible acquisition deal between Facebook and facial-recognition technology company

There is no doubting the flexibility and power of the Facebook offering. But the question begs: is this story of sublime success restricted to the US? Or is there a possibility that the next Facebook offering will emerge from somewhere else, somewhere unexpected – like Africa, for example.

Yes and no say experts in the field of website development and social networking.

“The reason for Facebook’s success is not because of technology, but because the guy behind it understood what people want and how to give it to them,” explains Howard Rybko, CEO of Syncrony, a national website development company.

“He had the ability to determine the social hooks that Internet users were looking for and then deliver a simple platform for users to connect with each other,” he adds.

Is there a possibility Africa could conceptualise and breathe life into an offering of the same magnitude and calibre as Facebook?

“I think that it is possible even though Africa makes up only around six percent of worldwide Internet users. The key for innovation will not be our size relative to the rest of the word; rather it will be our ability to see the world from a different perspective. Innovation and a major advance does not necessarily require new technology,” says Rybko.

Tomisin Fashina, CEO of Yookos (You Own Your Kosmos), a uniquely African social networking site, saysAfricahas the people and the expertise of the Internet to do this.

“The question is – can we be as big as Facebook. That is a challenge. The fact is that Africa is a niche area and the content will come out of Africa. We have the numbers. There are a billion people in Africa,” he comments.

As to the success of Facebook, Fashina believes this is down to the fact that Facebook’s founders were the first to galvanize the Internet into a social forum and combine this medium with honesty and transparency – and this worked.

Aldo van Tonder, CEO of FOXit, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and service provider focused on Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) in business, says there is every possibility that an offering similar to Facebook could emerge from Africa – but it would likely strongly resemble a combined business/ social offering that would have to be marketed as a global concept if it is to be taken seriously.

“Africa could be the gateway to the world. The question of whether there is sufficient bandwidth to accommodate this, still needs to be asked – but this is changing. We have the ability to innovate and the ideas, we just need to structure the offering in such a way that it has global appeal,” he says.

For one, the strategic approach and design of the platform needs to be taken into consideration.  This means designing platforms that are:

- Strategically thought through to meet the needs of the target audience (and not just a rip-off of Facebook)  

- Simply designed -  user-centric researched, analysed and applied, fewer pages, less clicks, less clutter and more whitespace

- Responsive and content-focused

- Mobile-first (learn from Facebook please!)

- Built to be truly cross platform using industry leading technologies and tools.

- Scalable and easily monetised

- Offer value via delivering on unmet social needs in the marketplace

- Futureproofed (scalable CMS and automated functionality)

There’s the challenge Africa!

We’re a clever and highly intelligent people who already shown technical and development prowess so although there is no clear-cut, definitive answer to the question of whether the continent can produce ‘a Facebook’, there is evidence to suggest that the notion is not beyond the realms of possibility.


Excerpted from IT News Africa: (Chris Tredger)

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