AMPION Venture Bus in Namibia

The AMPION Venture Bus competition touched down in Windhoek on the 10th of November with the participants accommodated at the Safari Hotels (who were generous enough to sponsor us a conference hall and free wi-fi on short notice). The actual event hosted by us which included a hackathon and startup pitch sessions took place the next day(11th November) at the NBII Mobile Lab located at the Polytechnic of Namibia Innovation Village.

Ampioneers arriving at the Polytechnic of Namibia's Innovation Village
Ampioneers arriving at the Polytechnic of Namibia’s Innovation Village

36 participants came together to travel from Harare to Cape Town and build 9 startup teams of which E-Maji, a device to monitor biological water contamination at source, was chosen as winner at the final pitch held at AfricaCom 2014 in Cape Town. This year saw an awesome batch of participants with various backgrounds from MIT graduates, former Vodacom managers, investment bankers and of course developers from Africa and around the globe.

A total of six Namibian participants qualified to board the bus. Two of those, Anastacia Shipepe of team MEM(a platform to facilitate growth for SME’s in Africa)  and Harry Moon of team DaMark.com (a platform to bridge the gap between formal and informal business sector in Africa) represented Namibia in 2014.

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Ampioneers at the AMPION Venture Bus event in Windhoek.

With help from SAIS, Microsoft,  NBII, Red Bull, Intouch Interactive Media and information.na we managed to host a great event where participants got to hone their startup ideas during the day’s hackathon and a gruelling afternoon pitch session presided over by a local and international panel of judges.

We had the chance to meet some awesome people and facilitate the first Namibian participants and make some noise about startups to get interest in Namibia going. To follow up on the bus coming to Windhoek, we will be facilitating meetings between Namibian and SADC tech hubs to find points of synergy in the upcoming months. We will also be working with local players in innovation to expand the Venture Bus idea in a local context.

Prof. Jurgen Sieck of the Berlin University of Applied Science giving a talk on innovation in the mobile space at the AMPION event in Windhoek.
Prof. Jurgen Sieck of the Berlin University of Applied Science giving a talk on innovation in the mobile space at the AMPION event in Windhoek. Juha Miettinen, CTA of SAIS to his left.

We are also happy to announce that SAIS, Leap Namibia, information.na and Microsoft are already onboard for next year’s bus. We’ll keep you updated on how the movement grows going forward and thank you for your support!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPLY NOW FOR THE AMPION VENTURE BUS 2014!

 

What is Venture Bus?

 

40 entrepreneurs on 1 bus for 5 days through 4 African countries! Designers, business experts and developers meet on the Venture Bus and team up (usually into 8 groups) to create innovative startups providing solutions to local challenges in Africa, specifically Namibia in our case. Yes, the Venture Bus is coming to Windhoek! Whoop!

Continue reading “APPLY NOW FOR THE AMPION VENTURE BUS 2014!”

The Benefits and Pitfalls of the URL shortener

Fig. 01

Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) are the fabric of the web. A URL is an address to a resource (file, database query, command output, etc.) on the internet. Since the advent of blogging technologies that have a premium on the number of characters per post, there had been a consistent need to develop algorithms that could reduce the number of characters a URL could occupy and recode them into aesthetically pleasing & manageable URLs. Techniques have been developed and in today’s fast-paced world in which the number of characters matter, shorter is better. Services that generate short URLs from long URLs are known as URL shorteners.

BENEFITS OF URL SHORTENING

01. URL shorteners, first and foremost, allow you to personalize a URL
and provide you with analytics details on the activity of your URL
(e.g. click data, geographical location of clickers, etc.). These help
if you sell products or services and need to know say, where your core
clients are based.

02. Short URLs are easier to share thus they promote the act of
sharing. Which would find easier to remember & share i.e.;

(1) http://thetechguysblog.com/about/#.U9WWs12t-o8, or

(2) http://bit.do/abouttechguys ?

03. A few URL shorteners can shorten multiple pages into one URL. From
my experience, the short URL’s immediate destination is usually that
of a page on the shortener’s website with individual URLs to web pages
you put up. This may come in handy if a user doesn’t own a website but
has a presence on the internet across several websites.

04. Short URLs are best to use when creating a QR code for a web page
because QR codes created from them have a (relatively) small surface
area and/or have larger dots so that they are easier to scan them from
a distance.

PITFALLS OF URL SHORTENING

01. URL shorteners redirect a user to a longer URL from a shorter one.
This theoretically implies that it takes a longer period of time
getting to a page via a short URL than it is clicking on its original
URL, hence short URLs generally slow down browsing.

02. You do not have any ownership over the short URL, thus you do not
have any control over security and/or longevity of the link.

03. URL shorteners are popular among spammers and if you use the same
URL shortener as they do in e-mails, you run the risk of having your
e-mail address blocked by your IPS (Internet Service Provider). As an
internet user, and as usually warned when clicking on unfamiliar
links, you should also be aware of the fact that shortened URLs can
possibly pass off as spam.

04. If the URL shortener’s servers happen to get hacked, every link
becomes a potential phishing attack.

 

Fig. 03

 

05. If the URL shortener folds (ceases operations), all links are
deleted from the company’s database and every short URL you created
with that shortener will break.

06. It is not possible to include descriptive/anchor text to your
short URL if the URL shortener you use does not provide custom URL
options. Descriptive text in a URL increases the web page’s chances of
not only getting picked up by search engines in related searches, but
also those of it getting a higher ranking among search hits.

PROMINENT URL SHORTENERS

01. bit.ly
02. tinyurl.com
03. goo.gl
04. ow.ly
05. multiurl.com

NB: Bit.ly and Goo.gl have recently been blacklisted by The Spamhaus
Project. [See link to The Spamhaus Project in the Reference section]

Useful Links:

01. Everything you need to know about ‘authorship’,
‘author rank’ and ‘social SEO’, with Mark
Traphagen

02. How to use Google URL shortener to help track
social media marketing activity

03. How to Create Your Own URL Shortener

How To Format Your Website for Mobile

mobileweb2

As an entrepreneur, your aim is to break even and position your business in a sea of profit. With the surge in the number of mobile devices in the global economy, it is becoming increasingly important for the business man/woman to make decisions that would make it easier for the mobile user (with an internet connection) to access information. The problem isn’t that business undertakings, today, don’t have websites, they do. The problem, usually, is that their websites are optimized for the desktop computer. Desktop websites usually take a while to load on mobile devices and time is money especially when you’re on the go. On average, mobile users leave a website if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

Web servicing is a form of service. A potential customer waiting for pages to load is equivalent to waiting at a desk for assistance and depending on the personal elasticity of demand one has for the service, the business would, by extension, lose out on turnover to a large degree.

Now, until the mobile device sector can close the gab between their capability and that of the desktop computer at one point in time without losing portability, it’s advisable for business owners to employ the use of a mobile sub-domain of their website to cater to mobile users. Here’s a list and short description of 5 tools I recommend for business owners to use for creation of a mobile version of their website.

 

mobify-logo

Mobify – is a freemium tool that accelerates your website in
addition to any speed optimization technology you may already have.
The paid plans start at US$249 per month per month, and include the
removal of mobify logo and report of website statistics.

scaledwirenode_logo3

 

 

 

 

 

Wirenode – is a mobile website generator and a user-friendly editor
for designing your mobile site. Paid plans start at US$19.80, w/
upgrades such as support for custom domains and removal of
advertisements.

 

mippin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mippin Mobilizer – all you have to do with Moppin Mobilizer isenter your websites RSS feed URL, go through a few steps, install some
code on your site and you’re done. As you configure your mobile site,
the app has a panel that allows your to preview it whilst you’re
progressing.

 

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Onbile – gives you an intuitive user interface for constructing a
mobile website, you can select one of the 13 templates as a starting
point for your mobile site design.

 

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Winksite – is a web app that helps you build a mobile community for
your website.

The benefits of hosting a mobile version of your website outweigh the costs involved in doing so and anything that implies gain maximization and/or cost reduction of a product/service usually means well for any competitor in the business arena. In the end, the decision to create a mobile version of a website all but lies in the hands of the business owner(s).

AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!

ampionpic

Last year as an extension of the internally renowned StartupBus competition, a proof of concept bus was ran under the moniker ‘StartupBus Africa’. It was a hugely successful venture spawning new startups such as Sterio.Me (a learning system via SMS), Workforce (a platform bringing together job
seekers and potential employers) and Bribed (an app to tackle corruption by crowdsourcing real time data on bribes) in addition to building linkages between existing technology hubs in Africa and internationally. Continue reading “AMPION Venture Bus is coming to Namibia!”

StartupBus Africa 2014 getting ready to kick off!

 

The StartupBus programme was founded in 2010 in the US by  Elias Bizannes on the premise that “Entrepreneurship cannot be taught but we believe it can be learned”. The idea is to put around 40 multi disciplinary entrepreneurs on a bus in a given locale and have them build a company in three to five days after which they pitch their business models/ ideas to a panel of judges and one company gets chosen for funding/acceleration. The big payoff is the networks created by participants who go on to utilize their skills and new found connections back at their respective places of residence and/or business.

Startup Companies
Companies started by StartupBus alumni.

Alumni of the StartupBus competition have spawned some notable startups amongst them Instacart which just recently secured 8.5 million USD in funding from famed Silicon Valley tech VC, Sequoia Capital, Branch which was recently purchased by Facebook for 15 million USD and Sterio.Me which has already partnered with schools across Africa to roll out its pilot programme to help students access educational content over mobile.

Fast forward to 2014 and StartupBus competition is now present on three continents with over 200 participants, but we would like to home in on the StartupBus Africa programme. The first StartupBus Africa competition kicked off in 2013 with a southern African leg touching down in Harare in Zimbabwe  and Joburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town in South Africa. This year the competition is aggressively expanding, enlisting a whopping 160 entrepreneurs and will include the following countries on the bus routes:

  • West Africa:
  1. Lagos
  2. Benin
  3. Togo
  4. Ghana
  5. Ivory Coast
  • East Africa:
  1. Kenya,
  2. Uganda
  3. Rwanda
  4. Tanzania.
  •  North Africa:
  1. Morocco
  2. Tunisia
  3. Algeria
  • Southern Africa:
  1. Zimbabwe
  2. South Africa
  3. Botswana
  4. Namibia
Startupbus Africa
The Buspreneurs on last year’s trip.

Last years StartupBus Africa competition spawned Workforce a mobile construction labor hiring platform, funeral.ly a funeral management app and Sterio.Me a free educational platform to help teachers engage more with their students through an SMS activated audible quiz. With this years expanded bus routes and many more entrepreneurs there should be many new exciting startups coming from African soil.

On top of their outstanding entrepreneurial skills, the participants bring sound knowledge in IT, web design, new media and business development. They will form interdisciplinary teams and work on different projects during the journey, with focus in 3 key areas: energy, healthcare and education.

StartupBus Africa
The StartupBus process.

 

At least half of the buspreneurs come from Africa and because we believe in the entrepreneurial energy of young women, we strive to have 50% of female buspreneurs on each bus.

Namibia!

To make sure that the bus reaches Namibian roads we need YOUR help. There are several sponsorship options for your organisation or company to become partners in StartupBus Namibia. Please click here get into contact with us or send an email to [email protected]

 

Namibia’s strange internet domain fiasco.

Namibia has found itself in a strange situation. Our country’s top domain is owned by a private Namibian entity. This is a problem. Although it is not uncommon for private entities to be in administrative control of issuing a certain countries domain name, these entities usually operate within mandates set by a national communication regulatory body or by government itself. But not in Namibia boeta, you just have Ondis. Chessssss!

This private entity comprised of three main individual shareholders called Ondis, in the early 90s saw that the Namibian government and private sector were sleeping on the the internet so they went and registered the .na domain with ICANN and now subsequently own the right to solely issue .na and .com.na domain names.  The company has issued all Namibian domain names through its instruments including those of government for close to two decades now at an average rate of 100USD/year for .com.na domains and 500USD for .na top domain. With close to 3000 Namibian domain registrations to date, these guys must have made a pretty penny. All in all, 3000 domain name registrations to a population of 2.3 million people is not very exciting anyway. I daresay the fact that three guys are figuratively holding the whole country at ransom has something to do with that.

infona
Super high domain registration costs for Namibian locals.

The cost of Namibian domain names is prohibitive, many Namibian’s end up purchasing .com and other domains which can be purchased from as little as 5 USD ( NAD 56) from services such as GoDaddy.com and Namecheap.com. Dr. Ebehard Lisse, one of the core shareholders of Ondis, has in the past defended prices saying the high cost was due to size of Namibia’s economy and that you would find similar price schemes with similar countries.  A little research shows that this is simply not true.

Southern African Small Country Domain Prices
Figures from each respective country’s domain registrar found by internet search.

Globally, domain registration prices for any country average around 10-20USD per year whereas Namibia’s are well over that range as the figure above shows. The Namibian ICT sector has had to make due with this problem but by no means has kept quiet on the issue.  Since 2008 The Namibian ICT Alliance has in the past requested Ondis to have a more inclusive board so that stakeholder in the various ICT sectors could have better representation. Ondis has not yet ratified the request and has accused the ICT alliance of exerting political pressure instead of engaging with them. Frans Ndoroma MD of Telecom Namibia has also called for a multi-stakeholder body to be implemented to take control of the domain registration license.

I personally see this as a failure of both government, private sector and just what I can call nothing but greed and short sightedness by Ondis. Government and private sector should have exerted far more pressure to standardise the process and now that the internet permeates nearly every part of daily operation of most public and private entities, easy and cost effective domain registration is becoming a bottleneck to proper representation of those entities on the internet today. Conversely, Ondis should have initiated steps to transfer control of .na domain registrations to a publicly accountable organisation years ago. They have cited lack of expertise in domain management and Namibia’s small population as cause of the slow uptake of Namibian domain names but that is just ludicrous speaking as a private entity sitting outside of public scrutiny. How could they even hope to address those same concerns if they do not have a relationship with  civil bodies in government? Their  holding on to the ccTLD licence with such fervour, leads one to assume their motive is purely financial, whatever the case may be.

Lastly, where is ICANN in all this? In 2007 at the Rio Internet Governance Forum they apparently had promised Mnr. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah then Min. of Info. & Broadcast that the ccTLD licence would be transferred over to government. You know what they say about promises. They need to be held to account, whether or not such a promise was made. That they continually allow this situation to pervade by ratifying Ondis ownership of the Namibian ccTLD goes against their own tenets of accessibility and accountability.

There does seem to be a growing amount of talk about the country  on this very issue and hopefully the newly established CRAN and ICT ministry will spearhead a task-force to bring all concerned stakeholders together to sort this issue out. With the unveiling of the new domestic IXP, making sure that national internet domain assignments is a transparent and optimised process for the challenges we face ahead in the rapidly changing technological landscape is key

Wikipedia and Indigenous Knowledge Systems

You must expect that from time to time this blog will concern itself with research matters around information systems and issues about their appropriation or adoption in indigenous communities. This is because part of our social development agenda is to create tools that aid indigenous communities. That being said I would like to, albeit at a very high level, deconstruct the implications of participatory computing systems like Wikipedia and the role they play in empowering Namibian communities or the communities of other countries like it. This article is a preamble to a more comprehensive report that I’m working on during the course of the year.

Once A Nomad

With the recent advancements in ICT4D, Namibia has seen many of its indigenous communities receive huge investments
in telecommunication infrastructure. There are many reports that document the progress of this endeavor and I suspect they form part of a greater discourse about the proverbial “bridging the digital divide”. My concern however is not whether rural schools are getting educational necessities like internet but rather the socio-technical issues that come with introducing “foreign technologies” into indigenous communities.

I recently got dragged into the maelstrom of Wikipedia and what it means for indigenous knowledge systems. I’m going to ignore any academic citation red tape right now and tell you that indigenous knowledge is popularly defined as “knowledge acquired by people who have had a long rapport with their environment”. The Himba of Namibia for instance would typically qualify as possessors of indigenous knowledge since their livelihood over the years has relied greatly on knowledge they acquired from living in Southern African environments for a long time.

Jimmy Wales, one of the founders of Wikipedia has described Wikipedia’s grand vision as “creating a world where every person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge”. I’d like to point out that “sum of all human knowledge” is really where it gets tricky. Currently the regulations that control the commission and omission of information into Wikipedia are laden with what we call a systemic bias. This systemic bias is preventing us from aggregating the sum of human knowledge because generally the curators running the show stem from western origins bringing with them western paradigms. This is being promulgated by a few counter intuitive rules they essentially say everyone is allowed to say their say as long as they do it in erudite English.  One rule (notability) for instance requires that any information contributed to Wikipedia is anchored by reliable sources. The problem is reliable sources is defined from an occidental point of view.

To put things in perspective, this essentially means that if you as a Himba wanted to submit an article to Wikipedia documenting a unique customary tradition this article would have to be substantiated by enough notable sources for it to survive Wikipedia’s unforgiving curators. Now, finding reliable source might not be a problem when writing about a particular butterfly in North America since Zoologist or historians have documented the landscape to near exhaustive limits but this is not the case for Namibia. A lot of Namibia’s history or indigenous knowledge is undocumented and what little has been written about it has been written from the view-point of Western settler intelligentsia that introduce a serious narrative bias.
Wikibias?
The entire thing is a Penrose step of never-ending issues, not only socio-technical but sometimes behavioural and cultural as well. With strong cultural underpinnings, we see local value systems clashing violently with those embedded in imported technologies. Perhaps I’m being too idealistic but when we leave this planet for the stars one day I’d like to leave with the wealth of its knowledge on a memory stick and I’m not just talking about knowledge on my favorite composer Frederic Chopin, but also how my ancestors made my favorite traditional drink Oshikundu. Currently, many research groups are experimenting with meta tools that make it easy for potential would-be editors to become frequent contributors. The declining retention rate of editors on English Wikipedia doesn’t help the faint glimmer of hope to encourage contribution to the sum of human knowledge. One would think that to overcome local challenges to the meagre repositories of Indigenous Knowledge we have to wait for a top-down solution but if M-PESA is anything to go by maybe we ought to find local solutions by co-opting a Western technology.

(Note the irony in all the wiki links in this post 😉 )