The local web: The year that was 2007

It’s been a cool year for the Web in South Africa.

Year of the blog?
We saw the arrival of two blog aggregators Afrigator and, and there was talk of a third. The former was recognised by CNN as a major web startup outside the US and also received mentions on the famous Read/Write Web. Amatomu got covered locally in FinWeek, Maverick, Intelligence and Financial Mail. Arthur Goldstuck did an anecdotal study that gave us the first rough picture of the local blogosphere. His study showed it was smaller than many of us thought.

We also saw the truly brilliant Bolton Deventer parody, the identity of whom, remains a mystery (anyone got any information?). We saw the so-called Bullardgate fracas, which — frankly — David Bullard won outright as bloggers failed to see the humour in his jibes. More seriously, opposition politician Patricia De Lille also at one stage called for regulation of the blogosphere, but backed down after outrage from bloggers. This year was also the first time an employee was fired over a blog, for ostensibly blogging confidential company information.

SA internet grows, Facebook frenzy kicks in
Local online adspend exceeded the 1% mark for the first time, but far off from the world leader in the UK which boasts online adspend of more than 14%. We have some way to go. hit the million local unique browsers — the first time ever for a site in this country. The whole group neared 3-million monthly total (local and international) unique browsers and 52-million monthly page impressions. Facebook-mania hit the country and, for a while, you could hear a pin drop on the local blogosphere as bloggers spent their time on the social networking service. Although still popular in SA, a country which is the sixth biggest on Facebook, things have quietened down a bit as people have got, well, bored of it.

Google is here, some local startups make waves
Perhaps the biggest news of all was that Google finally opened a local office in South Africa, under former Novell-head Stafford Masie. The first ever local event by Google, a networking session, was held at the Johannesburg Didata campus, at which I had the privilege of speaking at. We knew it was coming as Google had advertised the jobs for almost two years prior to the appointment. Vinny Lingham secured 5-million US dollars for Synthasite. Video sharing sites such as Zoopy and myvideo arrived on the scene. Startups such as Mark Garbers’ iblog, muti, vottle, blueworld and others came to the fore, showing growth and promise.

Media embraces blogs
We saw some major journalists start blogging. Ray Hartley and the FM’s Duncan Mcleod have created two successful blog brands, as has columnist Ivo Vegter. Biz-community established a successful blog and began following stories on the blogosphere and web 2.0 scene more intently. Under Ray Hartley, Avusa launched an aggressive multimedia strategy which also had a strong social media component in blogging. We managed to get one of our bloggers, accredited as a blogger, for the first time ever at a major local political event.

Jimmy Wales in South Africa
Wikipedia boss, Jimmy Wales, who has now visited this country three times in under a year to do interviews and speak at events revealed details of his new search project, which looked more like a Facebook profile than anything else. His revelation in this country led to worldwide speculation (and an attempt by Mashable, techcrunch, techmeme and to break my blog servers) about what exactly he was up to. He was brought into the country by Heather Ford under the auspices of iCommons.

I’m sure there are lots of brilliant projects, people and bloggers that I have left out… I did this list off the top of my head… Please let me know if there are any big omissions that I can add.

Stuff we did
At the M&G, we launched blog-media hybrid Thought Leader, — both which have been runaway successes. In barely a three month period Thought Leader has generated almost a million words of quality content from more than 100 contributors and accounts for around 7% of the M&G Online’s half-a-million monthly readers and 4-mill page impressions, with traffic growing rapidly. It’s also been a revenue success, being a profitable project from almost the first month. (I need to do another post about why we have been so excited by Thought Leader specifically and what it means for media models.) We also launched the start of the guide, with Yiza power & mobile, a basic mobile site,, and the less successful which was an upgraded version of the clunky (but early pioneer)

And lastly, a word of thanks
It’s been brilliant and fun working with the M&G Online team, which has steadily grown in numbers from two people when I joined to 14 dedicated online staffers, with more being hired next year. Furthermore the site has experienced record traffic and revenue, making it a profitable venture (online revenue now about 10% of the total company’s revenue), under difficult shareholder and technical conditions (ironically our main site is severely technically challenged with only half a developer based in Cape Town assigned to it). But that all changed with a strategy to bring the dev inhouse that started with the hiring of our brilliant strategist Vincent Maher and now with dev staff in place we finally get to redevelop the main M&G Online site from scratch using open source, much like the new projects we did in the course of 2007.

It’s been an amazing team at the M&G Online from the editorial team under the hard-working Riaan Wolmarans to our online sales team under Bryan Khumalo — truly one of the best in the business. And of course a special thanks to Vincent Maher — we’ve been partners in crime developing some of the new, creative and innovative projects this year… and we’ve had a huge amount of fun along the way.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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