Russell Southwood (from Balancing Act Africa) gave a fantastic presentation last week for the members of the iHub community entitled “The Browser and Social Media Wars,” where participants were introduced to how the development of devices and use of mobile in Africa are changing the innovation game.
The emphasis was to learn about the nature of the mobile device as a medium and reflect on the challenges facing the community in terms of gaps and opportunities.
Russell shared example-based research in social media use and development elsewhere in Africa, illustrating the great opportunities presented here and introducing the community to how we can connect our dreams to build better products. Russell reminded us that the transition from basic phones that hardly do anything at all, e.g. SMS-based phones, to devices that do a lot of things, e.g. the smart phone and tablet, is about a shift in ways of using and status – and how these developments will affect communities sociologically.
The audience learned:
- The challenge is to make every level of phones do something interesting.
- The technology community should be targeting a larger audience with a good idea rather than just a good idea with a small audience.
- Products must have attitude and attract a sub-culture to fight against the mainstream.
- The importance of what he called “the circle of aspiration” – i.e. to connect with what others are thinking to innovate together
- The necessity of critical mass, i.e. numbers matter and a startup won’t succeed without them.
Russell’s three key takeaways for the iHub’s innovation ecosystem were:
- Engagement with the market to gain intuition.
- Design in the fundamental sense, i.e. usability and functionality.
We should keep in mind Russell’s advice while trying to move the delta to have more mobile apps, more startups and more innovation locally. Putting people first and understanding who is going to use what we build is critical while the user experience is key to building a successful product.