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Google strategy for Africa: Access, relevance and sustainability

On a cold and rainy Cape Town Monday morning, Google launched gSouth Africa, its sixth African event of the past twelve months, inviting developers and tech entrepreneurs from all over the continent to come and engage to help create a better, more relevant internet for Africa. The continent is the last digital frontier. More than one-billion people hungrily await the arrival of the net, and as the infrastructure reaches African shores, and the price of access drops, so the dream becomes a reality.

During the keynote address, Nelson Mattos, VP of Development for Europe, the Middle East and Afica (EMEA) acknowledged that, since the earliest days, Google realised that it benefits directly from a robust internet. The company has a commitment to making information freely available around the world and it realises that from that point, opportunities will follow.

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Africa has huge challenges, according to Mattos. Specifically the diversity of the continent makes the creation of revelant content challenging. “If you want to be successful you have to do a good job at localising content,” he told a packed auditorium. Africa lacks local content. Globally, there are 94 domains registered per 10 000 users, but in Africa, that number drops to only one domain per 10 000 users.

Half of sixteen year olds don’t have internet access, and even when they do, affordability is a huge issue, severely curtailing their ability to interact.

In this context, Google’s strategy for Africa boils down to three basic ideas: Access, relevance and sustainability.

Access will be increased by building Google caches across Africa, building IXP’s and working with developers to build products that minimise loading time. African content must stay in Africa, said Mattos, which will reduce costs and increase speed over time. Right now in Nairobi, Google is working on plans for a wireless networks in major African cities, and is testing it out in Nairobi.

A host of new products are being built to address the issue of relevance. From KiSwahili Wikipedia pages, to Google Translate in Afrikaans and the ability to search in many African languages, the impact is profound.

The extension of Google Maps to cover 1.2 million kilometres of the continent, in addition to one million points of interest in Africa and coverage of 300 cities is making Google Maps a powerful resource for the travellers on the continent.

Baraza is another example of an ingenious Google product, designed to address the dearth of local content online. With Baraza, users are able to post comments that the community can answer, and over time those answers start to show up in Google searches, dramatically increasing the amount of relevant content available.

Sustainability will be achieved by working closely with developers and mobile operators, through grants, funding and scholarships that will entrench Google in Africa.

Mattos concluded by saying that, with such low access right now in Africa, there are still very few monetisation opportunities, but once the penetration increases over the next two to three years, the same opportunities that are available around the world will be available in Africa.

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