Could Africa launch the next Facebook?


Recent market performance and rumblings aside, there are clear reasons why Facebook has attracted a global subscriber base of over 900 million people. What if Africa could do the same?

Those in the business of Internet development and applications say the reason for Facebook’s rapid rise to online stardom is because it is accessible to anyone, is not dependent on high levels of PC or technology literacy and is engaging – providing users with the ability to post anything, anytime and achieve instant results.

What started out as a social experiment posting and judging juxtaposed photographs by Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg and a few friends in 2003, has grown into a multi-Billion Dollar social network website and global phenomenon.

In 2004 Zuckerberg started developing code for a website he called ‘thefacebook’, which, he would later declare, served as inspiration for Facebook.

It was intended as a social site for exclusive use of students at the University. However, it quickly gained appeal and was developed to link up with- and involve other academic institutions.

From this point the offering’s credibility as an interactive social forum exploded and attracted users from major, established businesses including the likes of Apple and Microsoft.

In less than ten years since its inception Zuckerberg listed on the stock exchange and flexed the inherent strengths of Facebook, with the offering emerging as the largest tech stock IPO to date.

At the time reported that the IPO makes Zuckerberg wealthier than Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

Facebook has also demonstrated its ability to pick up on high-growth markets like digital photography and photo-sharing. In May the company purchased the photo-sharing app Instagram and media reports spoke of negotiations over a possible acquisition deal between Facebook and facial-recognition technology company

There is no doubting the flexibility and power of the Facebook offering. But the question begs: is this story of sublime success restricted to the US? Or is there a possibility that the next Facebook offering will emerge from somewhere else, somewhere unexpected – like Africa, for example.

Yes and no say experts in the field of website development and social networking.

“The reason for Facebook’s success is not because of technology, but because the guy behind it understood what people want and how to give it to them,” explains Howard Rybko, CEO of Syncrony, a national website development company.

“He had the ability to determine the social hooks that Internet users were looking for and then deliver a simple platform for users to connect with each other,” he adds.

Is there a possibility Africa could conceptualise and breathe life into an offering of the same magnitude and calibre as Facebook?

“I think that it is possible even though Africa makes up only around six percent of worldwide Internet users. The key for innovation will not be our size relative to the rest of the word; rather it will be our ability to see the world from a different perspective. Innovation and a major advance does not necessarily require new technology,” says Rybko.

Tomisin Fashina, CEO of Yookos (You Own Your Kosmos), a uniquely African social networking site, saysAfricahas the people and the expertise of the Internet to do this.

“The question is – can we be as big as Facebook. That is a challenge. The fact is that Africa is a niche area and the content will come out of Africa. We have the numbers. There are a billion people in Africa,” he comments.

As to the success of Facebook, Fashina believes this is down to the fact that Facebook’s founders were the first to galvanize the Internet into a social forum and combine this medium with honesty and transparency – and this worked.

There is no separating Facebook from business and the relevance of this social networking site cannot be ignored.

Aldo van Tonder, CEO of FOXit, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and service provider focused on Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) in business, says there is every possibility that an offering similar to Facebook could emerge from Africa – but it would likely strongly resemble a combined business/ social offering that would have to be marketed as a global concept if it is to be taken seriously.

“Africa could be the gateway to the world. The question of whether there is sufficient bandwidth to accommodate this, still needs to be asked – but this is changing. We have the ability to innovate and the ideas, we just need to structure the offering in such a way that it has global appeal,” he says.

Although there is no clear-cut, definitive answer to the question of whether the continent can produce ‘a Facebook’, there is evidence to suggest that the notion is not beyond the realms of possibility.

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