Erik Hersman about developing Web 2.0 services in Africa

Erik Hersman about developing Web 2.0 services in Africa

Some sessions at the Web 2.0 Expo cover really broad subjects, like the one I’m attending right now: “Global Design Trends“. Instead of covering the whole story, I decided to pick an interesting subject that was part of the discussion.

Aaron Marcus wears his open cultural communications hat
Moderator Aaron Marcus weared his open cultural communications hat

Erik Hersman represented the continent of Africa and shared some surprising insights. He grew up the son of linguistic missionaries in Africa, bouncing back and forth between Sudan and Kenya until he left to the US for college. He is now an independent strategy consultant who writes about high- and low-tech change in Africa at AfriGadget and White African.

According to Hersman, developers should consider power availability, mobile access, connection possibilities when developing a service. “Obviously”, Hersman said, “There’s more low-hanging fruit in other parts of the world”. Though he concluded that there are opportunities in the continent. So, what factors should you take in account as a designer?

He used a screenshot of professional East-African portal Zunguka to illustrate the differences between western and African design.


For starters, the design of Zunguka is plain, simple and far from fancy. “The site lay-outs in Africa are very basic, as the connections Africans use are generally really slow. Most people log in from internet cafe’s with low-bandwidth connections. You might also notice that users don’t have to specify an e-mail address when signing up. Since this is not a digital identifier in Africa. Instead of that, the service asks for a cell phone number. Mobile phones are the pc’s of Africa.”

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