Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Internet could spur businesses

A participant speaking at the conference that attracted students and enterpreneurs
A participant speaking at the conference that attracted students and enterpreneurs

UGANDANS will be able to boost their businesses or other individual projects by exploiting the immense opportunities offered by the Internet.

This will be made possible by a Google project in six African countries, including Uganda, officials revealed at a two-day web and mobile conference at the Speke Resort Munyonyo last week.

The meeting attracted technology students and business people.

The search giant will engage the creative minds of technology students to focus on mobile development, Google maps for business, website optimisation and online advertising, Julie Taylor, the Google spokesperson for sub-Saharan Africa, explained.

He added that Uganda was chosen for the project because of the its stability, growth and a young educated population.

Through trainings and partnerships, the world’s leading search engine, has designed programmes that should see people move away from just using the search engines get information and sending mails, to exploiting business positioning and related tools for growth, using the almost limitless power of technology.

Through the projects, which are being pioneered in Nigeria in the next few weeks, 200 businesses will also be brought online where they can use Google templates to create websites.

Global experts believe Africa can leap past the broadband generation, and completely exceed the rest of the world in the new mobile Internet generation, which is viewed as the future of the global economy platform.

“Access barriers must be addressed because without solving that, Africa will never have a large number of Internet users. This can act as an incentive,” said Nelson Mattos, the Google vice-president for Europe, Middle-East and Africa, while speaking at the conference.

Africa’s potential, largely remains on paper, waiting to be turned into reality. But there is already a glimmer of hope sweeping across the continent.

Experts argue that any entrepreneur worth their salt cannot boast among peers if they have no presence in Africa. The continent is on the move with great returns, and, yet untapped reserves.

This partly perhaps explains Google’s interest in a new frontier that offers great returns for the future, according to industry observers.

Also, the entry of the undersea fibre optic cables has boosted Internet access because of its broadband size and reliability.

However, prices are yet to drop significantly.

According to Mattos, Internet becomes vibrant when there is local content. This is encourages people to come online and harness the value of net. “He who controls content also controls you,” said an expert.

Mattos says experience shows that people stay online a little longer when they can relate to online content, and thus the need to localise content.

Local content also cuts the cost of paying for international broadband.
“Internet must provide value by providing relevant content,” said Mattos.

Students have been encouraged to view and grasp the country’s numerous challenges as an opportunity and turn into practical solutions for the country.

“Students have to look at the problems of their society and find solutions for them through products that appeal to the people,” said Mattos.

Michael Niyitegeka, a lecturer in the Faculty of Computer Science at Makerere University, said the initiatives, involving students with great ideas, also act as a motivator for them to pursue products’ development.

One way of doing this is to harness a vibrant eco-system of developers, who make products that have a mass appeal to woo people to use the Internet.

However, Uganda, like many African states, still faces the challenge of poor infrastructure, low Internet penetration and widespread illiteracy.

The continent also lags behind in the information age. The disparity is so great that just about 1% of global Internet content is from Africa.

This can also be compared with the gaps in global trade where, despite Africa possessing the vast majority of resources, it controls just about 2% of global trade.

This, however, is changing first with the continent leading in voice penetration and Internet catching fast.

Uganda had 2.5 million Internet users as of August 2009, or about 7.7% of the population, according to the International Telecommunication Union, and 4,800 broadband Internet subscribers as of December 2009.

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