Low bandwidth and expensive access limit a lot what you can do with Internet in Africa. Therefore, if you want to build a successful web solution for African audience it should be lightweight using mostly text and a little bit of images. It’s advised to avoid using voice or video.
Unfortunately, even if you are successful building this kind of lightweight website you’ll fail, because there is a hidden trap.
A text based Internet works very well in the western or eastern world because of 99% literacy rate. People can read and write. In Africa, there is no such thing. In many countries the illiterates made the majority of the population. They don’t know how to write and read. A text based website is of no use for them.
There is an additional group of people who are literate or semi-literate but don’t like to write or read. Like Steve Jobs said it “People don’t read anymore”, and when it comes to Africa the situation is even worse. My estimate is that these 2 groups of illiterates and people who don’t like to read would amount to more than 70% of African population.
That’s the trap. To reach a profitable audience in Africa you need to use voice and video. Unarguably, voice and video are the only certain ways to reach people in Africa. But, because of low bandwidth and expensive Internet access, you can’t use them. On the other hand if you build a text based solution, your audience is very limited (to city hipsters, and the African diaspora).
There is no audience for online business in Africa. The very people who will make you millionaire are not online.
Many African Internet entrepreneurs discover this sad truth only after spending lots of money and time building their online solutions.
There are numerous possible solutions to that trap, and it’s possible to work around them. However, we have to keep in mind that even a widespread, free, and unlimited access to Internet is not a solution, because it won’t solve the illiteracy issue.
There is a big market for literacy neutral platforms where people can communicate with each other using online images, icons, illustrations and voices, contrary to text-based social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
Entrepreneurs who will take on this challenge and execute it well will be rewarded with a highly scalable profitable business. As an example, my grandfather would listen to a voice commercial, and call me to go to the market to check out the product. It won’t happen with a text ad or a display copy!
European culture is based on the written word, while African culture is more oral and visual. African entrepreneurs who will avoid importing blindly European model to Africa, but leverage their unique knowledge of the African market will be rewarded with much more profitable business. Investing in voice and image enabled search are one of the several ways to go.