Qiqima call to fame is the heavy emphasis they place on SMS and text. This concept is especially attractive since mobile penetration is higher than internet penetration in some areas on the continent.
TechMasai: What is Qiqima and what inspired the project?
Mr. Hwande: Qiqima is a micro blogging platform that is built around mobile communication and promotes interactions in both public and private virtual communities.
When the idea to build Qiqima originated, I had two things in mind. The first was to create a platform that allows Africans to create communities where they can share ideas and information. Secondly, I wanted to make it so that everyone with a mobile phone could interact with those communities and benefit from the information being shared all across the Web. What my team and I finally settled on as a basis was a micro blog – given the overwhelming success of Twitter. It is a perfect model to turn anyone who is limited to a 140-character SMS into a publisher on the World Wide Web.
TechMasai: There are a few microblogging platforms in Southern Africa, not to mention Africa as a whole. What is unique about Qiqima and what niche are you going after?
Mr. Hwande: I think that one of the things that sets us apart is the emphasis we’ve placed on SMS as a means to provide our mobile users almost as many functions as users on the web. For example, users can sign up, create communities, send private messages or start and stop receiving SMS notifications by sending a text message. This is being tested in South Africa but will soon be expanded to other countries in the region. We are also developing a simple mobile application that can be downloaded to many of the more common handsets in Africa and allows people to have even more control over their Qiqima profiles and search through messages, while minimizing network costs.
Qiqima is still in the earliest stages of development, so we’re using this time to listen and learn from our group of core testers. But when all is said and done, I see Qiqima going beyond social networking and becoming a resource network. This is especially true for people who have limited access to technology, but have a need to interact with a variety of virtual communities. We will continue to add or remove features based on community feedback.
Techmasai: What is the Southern Africa tech scene like?
Mr. Hwande: The Southern African tech scene has tremendous promise. This is especially apparent when you look at the rapid advancement of application development in South Africa – the economic leader in the region. There is increasing competition among tech enterprises in Southern Africa, which ultimately encourages all of us to be more creative and add more value for our users. The World Cup is only a few months away and I see this world event as a catalyst for even more growth in the tech community.
TechMasai: The technology scene has a limited growth potential without government support. What incentives could be provided to motivate local leaders to get involved in the sector?
Mr. Hwande: I think as local leaders start to see cost-effective information products that are relevant to governance and improve the lives of average citizen, they will start to pay more attention and allocate more resources to grow technology. A great example of this in my own home country was the telecom, Econet, who fought for many years to set up towers and push cell phone technology. Once people saw the value of mobile communications as something that was not only necessary, but attainable, opportunities opened up for the rest of us.
Techmasai: Africa has a bad image, which limits both growth and investment. What can be done to give a better perspective of Africa?
Mr. Hwande: We need to make sure that blogs like TechMasai, Appfrica, Bandwidth Blog and the White African blog thrive and continue to show off the spirit of entrepreneurship and determination that lives in most Africans that I meet. We, in the African tech community, also have a responsibility to continue striving to build innovative, quality products that allow us to compete on the same playing field as India, China, and the start-ups in the West. I strongly believe that technology has become the great equalizer that offers Africans an opportunity to close the information gap. The barriers to information have never been lower in terms of cost and availability.