Africa's Mobile Internet is built on a spoken tradition, voice-activation opportunity

The Economist's Intellgient Life has an article on Digital Africa.  Think of about this.

digital Africa will become a spoken tradition. African cultures are among the most oral in the world. Storytelling under the tree is still commonplace. Speaking is still preferred to writing and Africa happens to have timed its digital age to coincide with new voice-activated technologies. The generation gap between those who were trained to guide a fountain pen with their fingers, those whose kinetic memory is dominated by their thumbs, and those even younger who are used to the sweeping movements of the touchscreen, will give way to the return of voice—Africa’s voice.

Most don't even think about Africa, but I would bet as a percentage growth Africa is the largest data center expansion than any other continent.

Ethan Zuckerman's blog on Africa has some interesting posts.

I’m also utterly fascinated by this graph:

It’s a visualization of round-trip ping times between a test server and servers around the world. Basically, it’s a way of testing actual speed, rather than promised speed, of internet connectivity in different corners of the world… and it’s a reminder that there are many countries (at least when this data was generated in 2009) that are connected primarily by satellite, where packets take more than half a second to make the round trip.

But the data set I’m most enjoying is this one: the number of Facebook Friends various African leaders can claim. Some leaders have official pages, some private, personal pages. A large number simply have fan pages, put together by a community of supporters. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan leads the pack – by a lot – with 341,759 friends in December 2010. He’s embraced Facebook rather aggressively, going as far as to announce his candidacy for the presidency on the site, probably to preempt the announcement of a rival.

A close look at African leaders with lots of Facebook friends might offer a caution for Jonathan. Here are the top leaders, in terms of followers, as of December 2010″

341,759 Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria
232,424 Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia
61,510 Mwai Kibaki, Kenya
59,744 King Mohamed VI, Morocco
57,072 Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe (Prime Minister to Robert Mugabe)
21,306 Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania
15,723 Hosni Mubarak, Egypt
15,377 Laurent Gbagbo, Ivory Coast
14,714 Jacob Zuma, South Africa
12,658 Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria

Back to the Digital Africa Article, three companies are highlighted in the article - Facebook, Google, and Nokia

The first is Facebook. This social network, born at Harvard and based in Palo Alto, California, is not just a skin on internet-enabled African mobiles, it is the skin. Pricing is driving its popularity. The site was zero-rated in 2010—that is, made almost free of data charges in several African markets (the bill is footed by Facebook, the network operators and the phone manufacturers). “The zero-rating of Facebook was the most significant tech story in Africa in 2010,” says Erik Hersman, who has two influential blogs, White African and Afrigadget. So while text messages are cheap, sitting on Facebook is even cheaper. Facebook’s own numbers show growth coming fastest in Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

Google is next, but note the mention that Google is adding data center capacity in Africa.

The second company is Google, the search and advertising colossus, also based in Palo Alto. In Africa, Google looks omniscient. It wants to make the internet a part of everyday life in Africa by eliminating entry barriers of price and language. Even with the drop in prices, Africans still pay many times more for broadband than Europeans do. Google hopes to bring the price down further by establishing data caches in Africa, greatly reducing the time taken to reach popular websites—particularly those with African content. Detractors say Google is buying up swathes of Africa’s digital real estate at bargain prices: it seeks transparency of others, but reveals little of itself. How much is it spending on the new infrastructure? “We don’t discuss numbers,” says a Google executive, “but we are committed to Africa.”

Nokia gets mentioned as the biggest cell phone provider.

The third big player in Africa’s digital revolution is Nokia, the mobile-phone maker from Tampere in Finland, which has history and substance in African eyes. It claims a 58% market share in Africa and vies with Coca-Cola as the continent’s most recognised brand. It was Nokia’s ability to distribute phones through subsidies in rich countries that allowed it to sell basic models at low prices in Africa. Nokia has lost ground at the high end in rich countries to Android and the iPhone. Nokia executives admit the company has “lost the thought leadership” in some markets, but not in Africa.

Apple and Nokia are mentioned.

Apple is nowhere in Africa and shows little interest in democratisation, but Nokia is facing stiff competition at the top of the market from BlackBerry, the smartphone made by Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Canada. The head of BlackBerry’s Africa office, Deon Liebenberg, says his company’s sales defy logic. BlackBerry had seen itself as providing a secure platform for businessmen and government officials. Now it is selling models with consumer appeal: rounded phones in shades of tangerine and strawberry lipgloss. To the young African professional, the smartphone is highly aspirational: it is the house and car you can’t afford. In a culture where so much is shared, the smartphone is a space which is all yours—your music, your plans, your tomorrow.